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Sep 21, 2009
This week's theme
Words about censorship and destruction of books

This week's words
comstockery
imprimatur
bowdlerize
nihil obstat
grangerize

Anthony Comstock
Anthony Comstock
(photo: Wikimedia)

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Librarians and booksellers are two of my favorite peoples. Anyone who loves books so much as to dedicate his life to them can't be all that bad.

Unfortunately there are some who feel threatened by certain books and call for them to be banned or destroyed. People have a right to be offended by any book. All they have to do is not buy or borrow it. The problem begins when they try to impose their views on others by trying to ban it.

As an antidote to banning, the last week of September is observed in the US as Banned Books Week. To celebrate it, this week we are going to feature five words relating to censorship and mutilation of books.

Even though people after whom some of these words are coined have long gone, censorship is still alive. But there's hope. I leave you with this thoughtful letter from a librarian to a patron.

comstockery

PRONUNCIATION:
(KOM-stok-uh-ree, KUM-)

MEANING:
noun: Overzealous censorship of material considered obscene.

ETYMOLOGY:
After Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. He crusaded against anything he considered immoral. Nothing escaped his wrath -- even anatomy textbooks for medical students and the draping of mannequins in public view in shop windows were obscene to him. He lobbied for laws against mailing any material that could be perceived as promoting immorality.
He was appointed postal inspector and he seized books, postcards, and other materials by the boatload. He boasted that he had arrested more than 3,000 people and driven more than 15 to suicide. George Bernard Shaw coined the word comstockery after him when he attacked the American production of Shaw's play "Mrs. Warren's Profession".

USAGE:
"The language and thought police are hardly some Orwellian invention; America has been unusually susceptible to plagues of Comstockery and self-righteous tomfoolery."
Jon Newlin; Well, Shut My Mouth; Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana); Oct 13, 1996.

See more usage examples of comstockery in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. -J.K. Rowling, author (b. 1965)

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