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Thomas Bowdler's famous reworked edition of William Shakespeare's plays. 1818

Expurgation is a form of censorship which involves purging anything deemed noxious or offensive, usually from an artistic work.

Bowdlerization is a pejorative term for the practice, particularly the expurgation of lewd material from books. The term derives from Thomas Bowdler's 1818 edition of William Shakespeare's plays, which he reworked in order to make them more suitable, in his opinion, for women and children.[1] He similarly edited Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

A fig-leaf edition is such a bowdlerized text, deriving from the practice of covering the genitals of nudes in classical and Renaissance statues and paintings with fig leaves.




  • "The Crabfish", an English folk song with ribald lyrics,[3] has had sanitized versions released in which the lobster grabs the wife by the nose[4] or where the actual wounds are only implied by the rhyme.[5]
  • A Boston-area ban on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! – owing to a short motel sex scene – prompted the author to assemble a 150-volume fig-leaf edition with the nine offending pages blacked out as a publicity stunt.[7][8]



  • Many Internet message boards and forums use automatic wordfiltering to block offensive words and phrases from being published or automatically amend them to more innocuous substitutes such as asterisks or nonsense. This often catches innocent words also: see Scunthorpe problem.


  • Chinese internet filters – the Great Firewall – also work to block politically-sensitive terms and characters from being published on most public sites or loaded by domestic ISPs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Censorship".
  2. ^ Popper, William. The Censorship of Hebrew Books, pp. 13–14. Knickerbocker Press, 1889.
  3. ^ Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: loose and humorous songs ed. Frederick J. Furnivall. London, 1868.
  4. ^ "The Crabfish".
  5. ^ "Crayfish".
  6. ^ Bussacco, Michael C. Heritage Press Sandglass Companion Book: 1960–1983, p. 252. Tribute Books (Archibald, Penn.), 2009. Accessed 23 September 2010.
  7. ^ Curtis, Jack. "Blood from Oil". Boston Globe, 17 February 2008. Accessed 23 September 2010.
  8. ^ Sinclair, Mary Craig. Southern Belle, p. 309. Crown Publishers (New York), 1957. Accessed 23 September 2010.
  9. ^ Tomasky, Michael. "The New Huck Finn". The Guardian, 7 January 2011. Accessed 6 September 2013.