Wednesday, July 11, 2012

If you have an interview today, we hope it goes better than Alexender Hamilton's 1804 Interview at Weehawken

You thought Vice President Dick Cheney was careless with firearms?

Vice President Aaron Burr was aiming at Alexander Hamilton on the morning of July 11, 1804... and he didn't miss.

Of course, if you don't understand that "interview" was (if not an actual synonym) a polite euphemism for "duel" none of this may make any sense to you.

So, for you, we advise that today is also Bowdler Day.

Thomas Bowdler was an English doctor, born on this day in 1754. He is remembered today, not for any medical accomplishment, but for his attempt to 'improve' on Shakespeare by removing all offensive words and phrases from the Bard's collected works. Bowdler's magnum opus, The Family Shakespeare was first published in 1807; he also prepared 'family' editions of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published posthumously) and certain books of the Old Testament.

Bowdler's efforts are remembered in the verb 'to bowdlerize,' meaning to expurgate, to prune, to edit, with particular attention to removing any naughty bits that might bring the slightest blush to younger or more sensitive readers (or viewers).

In modern usage, the verb is never bestowed as a compliment.

But is that fair? Bowdler was not a censor, not in the sense of someone trying to bring the power of the state to bear against a movie or book, to purge it of portions deemed offensive or to ban it outright. Rather, Bowdler considered himself Shakespeare's biggest fan. "I acknowledge Shakespeare to be the world's greatest dramatic poet," Bowdler wrote, "but regret that no parent could place the uncorrected book in the hands of his daughter, and therefore I have prepared the Family Shakespeare."

Many of us of a certain age can cite popular television programs or movies that would be, in our opinions, improved considerably by toning down, eliminating, or substituting a euphemistic reference for a full-frontal, in-your-face 'comic' bit. I have it on good authority, for example, that the Curmudgeon has never yet been able to get through an entire episode of Family Guy. We don't mean to destroy your right to enjoy vulgarity; we stand foursquare against censorship. We wish, though, sometimes, that a Bowdler might be found today to tone down some of the excesses of popular shows so that we, too, can enjoy them.

Something serious for you to discuss tonight at your local as you contemplate Bowdler Day....

The illustration used at the top of this piece was obtained from the Saturday Evening Post website. We didn't know that the Saturday Evening Post still existed... but apparently it does.

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