Expurgation, also known as bowdlerization, 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, 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 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" (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.[6] Over the years, sanitized versions of the song were released in which a lobster or crab grabs the wife by the nose[7] instead of by the genitals[6] or that imply the location of the wounds by censoring the rhyming word in the second couplet. For instance, "Children, children, bring the looking glass / Come and see the crayfish that bit your mother's a-face" (arse).[8]
  • The 1925 Harvard Press edition of Montaigne's essays (translated by George Burnham Ives) was published without the essays pertaining to sex.[9]
  • 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.[10][11]
  • 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.[12]



  • 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'.[19][20][21]
  • The 2010 song "Fuck You" by Cee Lo 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.[22]


  • 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".[23][24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Censorship" (PDF).
  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.
  3. ^ Popper, William (1889). The Censorship of Hebrew Books. Knickerbocker Press. pp. 13–14.
  4. ^ Greenfield, Jeanette (1996-01-26). The Return of Cultural Treasures. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47746-8.
  5. ^ Carus, Paul (1925). The Open Court. Open Court Publishing Company.
  6. ^ a b Frederick J. Furnivall, ed. (1867). Bishop Percy's Folio Manuscript: loose and humorous songs. London. p. 100.
  7. ^ "The Crabfish".
  8. ^ "Crayfish".
  9. ^ Bussacco, Michael C. (2009). Heritage Press Sandglass Companion Book: 1960–1983. Tribute Books (Archibald, Penn.). p. 252. ISBN 9780982256510. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  10. ^ Curtis, Jack (February 17, 2008). "Blood from Oil". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  11. ^ Sinclair, Mary Craig (1957). Southern Belle. New York: Crown Publishers. p. 309. ISBN 9781578061525. Retrieved September 23, 2010.
  12. ^ Lyngstad, Sverre (2005). Knut Hamsun, Novelist: A Critical Assessment. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-7433-5.
  13. ^ Tomasky, Michael (January 7, 2011). "The New Huck Finn". The Guardian. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
  14. ^ Lowenthal, David (October 2015). The Past is a Foreign Country - Revisited. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85142-8.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2000). The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-02831-2.
  17. ^ Marshall, Elizabeth; Sensoy, Özlem (2011). Rethinking Popular Culture and Media. Rethinking Schools. ISBN 978-0-942961-48-5.
  18. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 156-8.
  19. ^ Pourciau, Lester J.; Press, Purdue University (1999). Ethics and Electronic Information in the Twenty-first Century. Purdue University Press. ISBN 978-1-55753-138-4.
  20. ^ Ng, Jason (2013-08-27). Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on ChinaÕs Version of Twitter (And Why). New Press, The. ISBN 978-1-59558-871-5.
  21. ^ Wikipedia, Source (September 2013). Internet Censorship: Content-Control Software, History of Wikipedia, Wikileaks, 2010-2011 Middle East and North Africa Protests, Criticism of Facebook. General Books. ISBN 978-1-230-60168-7.
  22. ^ Smith, Caspar Llewellyn (2010-11-14). "Cee Lo Green: 'I've been such an oddball my whole life' | Q&A". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-10-10.
  23. ^ "South Park: The Fractured But Whole was originally called South Park: The Butthole of Time". VideoGamer.com. 2016-07-25. Retrieved 2021-12-25.
  24. ^ "'South Park: The Fractured But Whole' game – everything you need to know". NME. 2017-09-25. Retrieved 2021-12-25.