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Since You Asked: Shaming Shakespeare earn Bowdler infamy

In a past article you used the term "bowdlerized version" in explaining the phrase "you don't know Jack." I would like to know where you found the word "bowdlerized." I grew up in a small town in South Dakota that had the name Bowdle. My understanding was the name came from a railroad person back in the 1800's that started the town. Maybe you used to live there? Would like some feedback. Thank you.

— Jim S., Medford

Before our days dining on trivial information spiced with nutmeg and cynicism for the Since You Asked Wordlerie and Lexicographic Emporium, we did have a childhood — but not in South Dakota. We know, seems hard to believe: We did have mothers. So, point is, we're not familiar with your Bowdle.

Our bowdlerizer is the Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825) who produced "The Family Shakespeare," a Shakespeare collection in 1818 that was purged of all the naughty bits. Oh, maybe you didn't know Shakespeare was naughty? He made Bowdler blush, anyway, so he edited to remove everything he considered "unfit to be read by a gentleman in the company of ladies."

Some examples we found: In "Hamlet," Bowdler's Ophelia died by accidental drowning instead of suicide. In "Macbeth," Lady Macbeth's "Out, damned spot!" became "Out, crimson spot!" There were other less savory omissions (Mercutio, Romeo and the Nurse briefly discussing, er, self exploration in "Romeo and Juliet," for example). As much as he's reviled, Bowdler's also credited with broadening Shakespeare's reach to the even most delicate sensibilities of his time.

Though he wasn't the only expurgator of his time, Bowdler's deed is punished by having a derogatory word created from his name. So, from here to eternity, "to bowdlerize" something means "to remove passages considered offensive (from a book, play, etc.)," according to our Funk & Wagnall's (Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Edition). Other definitions we found include "to hack up, to censor."

Meanwhile, a quick search online found your old town is named for C.C. Bowdle, a pioneer banker. Just how long has it been since you went home to celebrate Tower Day, Jim? (For the uninitiated, Tower Day celebrates the accidental delivery to Bowdle, and subsequent installation, of that state's tallest water tower.)

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We get so many questions we can't answer them all, but we'll try!