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Censure vs Censor

The latest inspirational column from Rev. Dr. John Kreutzwieser
Word Wisdom

On June 5, the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board censured Iran for failing to cooperate fully with the agency. The board called on Tehran to provide answers in a long-running investigation and demanded they reverse its decision to bar several experienced U.N. inspectors. Censure resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency are not legally binding but send a strong political and diplomatic message.

To censure is to formally reprimand and criticize as blameworthy certain actions by an entity or individual. Censure can be confused with censor. They both describe a restrictive action coming from an authoritative group but are distinct in meaning. To censor is to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.

A censure is an official reprimand or judgment involving condemnation. A censor is an official who examines materials for objectionable matter or who reads communications and deletes material considered sensitive or harmful. In early Rome Cato the Censor accused Africanus and his senior officers of running an army riddled with moral laxity.

Censure came into English from the Anglo-French censure, which was derived from the Latin censere, meaning to perform the duties of a censor. A censor in ancient Rome was a magistrate tasked with three main jobs. The tasks were registering citizens, removing persons from the register whose conduct were found wanting, and leasing public contracts. The Latin verb censure also came to describe the actions of the work of a censor, that being to render an opinion, assess and appraise citizens.

When censure entered the English language in the 1300s it was used in the sense of rendering an opinion or judgement involving condemnation only. The positive work of a censor was removed from the usage.

To censure was to formally reprimand someone. In her book Shirley, A Tale, Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855) wrote, “She would tell him it was no proof of refinement to be ever scolding others for vulgarity, and no sign of a good pastor to be eternally censuring his flock.”

In 1882, censor was also used negatively. To censor was to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable. Those in authority began to censor the news. Those charged with moral authority would censor passages of writings that were deemed indecent.

A censor in England in 1526 was a person who supervised conduct and morals of citizens. Over time a censor described an official position. Governments appointed censors to examine publications and films for offensive content. In time of war a censor was charged with the duty to read communications and delete phrases considered classified or detrimental.

Synonyms for the verb to censor include clean up, launder, and red-pencil. To clean up implies eradication of extraneous material. To launder means to sanitize and make the text more acceptable by removing, hiding, or minimizing any unpleasant, undesirable, or unfavorable parts. Censors often made use of red pencils to put a line through objectionable content and thus red-pencil the communication.

Criticize, reprehend, reprobate, condemn, denounce and censure all imply to find fault with openly.

Criticize means finding fault with methods or policies or intentions. Some people criticize the police for using violence to subdue offenders.

Reprehend entails severe rebuking. Many university professors reprehend the self-centeredness of students.

Reprobate implies a firm refusal to sanction. Her parents reprobated their daughter’s unconventional lifestyle.

Condemn suggests a final unfavourable judgement. The opposition condemned the government’s oil and gas policies.

Denounce adds to condemn the implication of a public declaration. The bishop issued a pastoral letter denouncing abortion.

Censure carries a strong suggestion of authority and of reprimand. The wayward senator was formally censured by his peers.

In an age of increasing calls for censoring of books in libraries and schools, is there cause to consider a censure to talk about criticizing, condemning, or reprimanding those pushing for censorship.

John would like to know if anyone has a sincere interest in a relevant word that he could possibly research for an upcoming column. If so, please send your requests to Words will be selected according to relevance and research criteria. We cannot confirm that all words will be used.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication. 

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