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An expurgation of a work, also known as a bowdlerization or fig-leaf edition, is a form of censorship that involves purging anything deemed noxious or offensive from an artistic work or other type of writing or media.

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

The term bowdlerization is a pejorative term for the practice,[citation needed] 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 ways that he felt were more suitable for women and children.[1] He similarly edited Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.[2]

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






  • Due to its mockery of the ancestors of the modern British Royal Family,[6] graphic descriptions of sex acts, and the symptoms of venereal disease,[7] Scottish Gaelic national poet Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair's groundbreaking 1751 poetry book Ais-eridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich ("The Resurrection of the Old Scottish Language") continued to be republished only in heavily bowdlerized editions by puritanical censors throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.[8] The first uncensored text was published only in 2020.[9]
  • "The Crabfish" (known also as "The Sea Crabb"), an English folk song dating back to the mid-1800s about a man who places a crab into a chamber pot, unbeknownst to his wife, who later uses the pot without looking, and is attacked by the crab.[10] Over the years, sanitized versions of the song were released in which a lobster or crab grabs the wife by the nose[11] instead of by the genitals,[10] and others in which each potentially offensive word is replaced with an inoffensive word that does not fit the rhyme scheme, thus implying that there is a correct word that does rhyme. For instance, "Children, children, bring the looking glass / Come and see the crayfish that bit your mother's a-face" (arse).[12]
  • The 1925 Harvard Press edition of Montaigne's essays (translated by George Burnham Ives) omitted the essays that pertain to sex.[13]
  • A Boston-area ban on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! – owing to a short motel sex scene – prompted the author to assemble a 150-copy fig-leaf edition with the nine offending pages blacked out as a publicity stunt.[14][15]
  • In 1938, a jazz song "Flat Foot Floogie (with a Floy Floy)" peaked at number two on US charts. The original lyrics were sung with the word "floozie", meaning a sexually promiscuous woman, or a prostitute, but record company Vocalion objected. Hence the word was substituted with the almost similar sounding title word "floogie" in the second recording. The "floy floy" in the title was a slang term for a venereal disease, but that was not widely known at the time. In the lyrics it is sung repeatedly "floy-doy", which was widely thought as a nonsense refrain. Since the lyrics were regarded as nonsense the song failed to catch the attention of censors.
  • In 1920, an American publisher bowdlerized the George Ergerton translation of Knut Hamsun's Hunger.[16]
  • Lady Chatterley's Lover by English author D. H. Lawrence. An unexpurgated edition was not published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960.
  • Several music artists have changed song titles to appease radio stations. For example, an expurgated remix of Snoop Dogg's song "Wet" was released under the title "Sweat" and Rihanna's song "S&M" had to be changed to "C'mon" in the UK.[17]


  • Recent editions of many works—including Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn[18] and Joseph Conrad's Nigger of the Narcissus—have found various replacements ("slave", "Indian", "soldier boy", "N-word", "children") for the word nigger. An example of bowdlerization can be plainly seen in Huckleberry Finn, in which Twain used racial slurs in natural speech to highlight what he saw as racism and prejudice endemic to the Antebellum South.[19][20]
  • Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers was dramatised by the BBC under the name And Then There Were None. It was subsequently re-released under this title in the United States, and the short poem which is intrinsic to the plot was changed from Ten Little Niggers to Ten Little Indians.[21][22]
  • The American version of the counting rhyme "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe", which was changed by some to add the word "nigger",[23] is now sung with a different word, such as "tiger".
  • The Hardy Boys children's mystery novels (published starting in 1927) contained heavy doses of racism. They were extensively revised starting in 1959 in response to parents' complaints about racial stereotypes in the books.[24] For further information, see The Hardy Boys#1959–1979.


  • 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, in a scenario referred to as the Scunthorpe problem; words such as 'assassinate' and 'classic' may become 'buttbuttinate' or 'clbuttic'. Users frequently self-bowdlerize their own writing by using slight misspellings or variants, such as 'fcuk' or 'pron'.[25][26]
  • The 2010 song "Fuck You" by CeeLo Green, which made the top-10 in thirteen countries, was also broadcast as "Forget You", with a matching music video, where the changed lyrics cannot be lip-read, as insisted by the record company.[27]


  • A student edition of the novel Fahrenheit 451 was expurgated to remove a variety of content. This was ironic given the subject matter of the novel involves burning books. This continued for a dozen years before it was brought to author Ray Bradbury's attention and he convinced the publisher to reinstate the material.
  • The video game South Park: The Fractured but Whole was originally going to have the name The Butthole of Time. However, marketers would not promote anything with a vulgarity in its title, so "butthole" was replaced with the homophone "but whole".[28][29]
  • In 2023 new versions of Roald Dahl's books were published by Puffin Books to remove language deemed inappropriate. Puffin had hired sensitivity readers to go over his texts to make sure the books could "continue to be enjoyed by all today".[30] The same was done with the James Bond novels.[31]

See also



  1. ^ Wheeler, Kip. "Censorship and Bowdlerization" (PDF). Jefferson City, Tennessee, USA: Carson-Newman University. p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  2. ^ Gibbon, Edward (1826). Gibbon's History of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, repr. with the omission of all passages of an irreligious or immoral tendency, by T. Bowdler. pp. i, iii.
  3. ^ Popper, William (May 1889). The Censorship of Hebrew Books (1st ed.). New Rochelle, New York, USA: Knickerbocker Press. pp. 13–14. OCLC 70322240. OL 23428412M.
  4. ^ Greenfield, Jeanette (26 January 1996). The Return of Cultural Treasures. England: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47746-8.
  5. ^ Carus, Paul (1925). The Open Court. Open Court Publishing Company.
  6. ^ Charles MacDonald (2011), Moidart: Among the Clanranalds, Birlinn Limited. pp. 129-130.
  7. ^ Derek S. Thomson (1983), The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, page 185.
  8. ^ The Scottish Poetry Library interviews Alan Riach about Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, June 2016.
  9. ^ Aiseirigh: Òrain le Alastair Mac Mhaighstir Alastair, The Gaelic Books Council.
  10. ^ a b Frederick J. Furnivall, ed. (1867). Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: loose and humorous songs. London. p. 100.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  11. ^ Feierabend, John M. (1 April 2004). The Crabfish. Illustrated by Vincent Ngyen. Gia Publications. ISBN 9781579993832. OCLC 59550589.
  12. ^ "The Crayfish". Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  13. ^ Bussacco, Michael C. (2009). Heritage Press Sandglass Companion Book: 1960–1983. Tribute Books (Archibald, Penn.). p. 252. ISBN 9780982256510. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  14. ^ Curtis, Jack (17 February 2008). "Blood from Oil". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts, USA. ISSN 0743-1791. OCLC 66652431. Archived from the original on 11 July 2016. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  15. ^ Sinclair, Mary Craig (1957). Southern Belle. New York: Crown Publishers. p. 309. ISBN 9781578061525. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  16. ^ Lyngstad, Sverre (2005). Knut Hamsun, Novelist: A Critical Assessment. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7433-5.
  17. ^ "When Artists Are Forced to Change Song Titles". Retrieved 21 October 2023.
  18. ^ Tomasky, Michael (7 January 2011). "The New Huck Finn". The Guardian. London, England. ISSN 1756-3224. OCLC 60623878. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
  19. ^ Lowenthal, David (October 2015). The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85142-8.
  20. ^ Fulton, Joe B. (1997). Mark Twain's Ethical Realism: The Aesthetics of Race, Class, and Gender. University of Missouri Press. ISBN 978-0-8262-1144-6.
  21. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2000). The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-02831-2.
  22. ^ Marshall, Elizabeth; Sensoy, Özlem (2011). Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. Rethinking Schools. ISBN 978-0-942961-48-5.
  23. ^ Opie, Iona; Opie, Peter. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (2nd ed.). England: Oxford University Press. pp. 156–8. ISBN 0198600887. OL 432879M. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  24. ^ Rehak, Melanie (2005). Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (1st ed.). Harcourt, Orlando, Florida, USA: Harvest (published 2006). p. 243. ISBN 9780156030564. OCLC 769190422. OL 29573540M. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  25. ^ Pourciau, Lester J. (1999). Ethics and Electronic Information in the Twenty-first Century. Purdue University Press. ISBN 978-1-55753-138-4.
  26. ^ Ng, Jason (27 August 2013). Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on ChinaÕs Version of Twitter (And Why). New Press, The. ISBN 978-1-59558-871-5.
  27. ^ Smith, Caspar Llewellyn (14 November 2010). "Cee Lo Green: 'I've been such an oddball my whole life' | Q&A". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 October 2020.
  28. ^ "South Park: The Fractured But Whole was originally called South Park: The Butthole of Time". VideoGamer.com. 25 July 2016. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  29. ^ "'South Park: The Fractured But Whole' game – everything you need to know". NME. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 25 December 2021.
  30. ^ Rawlinson, Kevin; Banfield-Nwachi, Mabel; Shaffi, Sarah (20 February 2023). "Rishi Sunak joins criticism of changes to Roald Dahl books". The Guardian. London, England. ISSN 1756-3224. OCLC 60623878. Archived from the original on 21 February 2023. Retrieved 22 February 2022.
  31. ^ Haring, Bruce (26 February 2023). "James Bond Books Edited To Avoid Offense To Modern Audiences – Report". Deadline. USA: Penske Media Corporation. Archived from the original on 28 February 2023. Retrieved 26 February 2023.