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An Oft Misused Word: “Censorious”

Misused word alert: “Censorious” has nothing to do with censoring or censorship. “Censorious” is instead related to the verb censure, which is quite different than censor. Given that censorship has been in the news a lot, one hears “censorious” thrown around more; and it’s usually not the correct word for the speaker’s intended meaning.

Here a couple examples of the incorrect use of “censorious”:

The European Union is targeting American tech companies with burdensome regulations that seek to export a more censorious content moderation regime around the globe.
In 2017, Facebook was more censorious than previously. 

Instead, the latter example should read simply:

In 2017, Facebook began censoring more than they had previously.

Perhaps that sounds less impressive and doesn’t use a “big word,” yet it has the benefit of being grammatically correct.

In first example, the speaker uses “censorious” as though it were the adjective form of “censor”–which is incorrect. Instead, censorious is the adjective form of censure. Merriam Webster defines censure:

To censure is to criticize in a formal way. It has no relation to “censor,” except to the extent that they are both kind of negative.

Meanwhile, “censorious” is not a word one hears frequently these days (at least not in its correct usage). More often than not, one hears it misused as to mean someone who censors a lot.

Here is an example of the correct use of censorious, from Merriam-Webster:

I was surprised by the censorious tone of the book review.

Censorious is a fairly formal word, which might be used in an academic setting, or perhaps used in literature from an earlier time period.

Alas, there is no adjective form of “censor,” as to mean “one who censors.” There is “censorable,” but that refers to the thing being censored rather than the person doing the censoring. “Censor” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to suppress or delete as objectionable”:

The verb censure does not have any element of “suppressing” or “deleting,” hence it is unrelated to censor.

Synonyms for censorious include “faultfinding” and “hypercritical.” So someone who is always finding fault with others may be referred to as “censorious,” whereas one who deletes or suppresses information can be referred to simply as “one who censors.”

Works Cited

“Censorious.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jul. 2023.

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