Definitions of Censorship

The following are some definitions, usage histories and translations of censorship. We invite you to add your own or submit other citations in the Comments section of The File Room.

The Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition), prepared by J.A. Simpson and E.S.C. Weiner, Volume II.


  1. The office of a Roman censor (or its period). 1600 Holland "Livy 264" (R.) To stand for a censorship. 1869 Rawlinson "Anc. Hist." 361 The dignity of the censorship was...lessened by the Aemilian law.

  2. a. gen. The office or function of a censor (see CENSOR sb. 2) official supervision. spec. control of dramatic production and films (see CENSOR sb. 2b, e). 1591 Percivall. "Sp. Dict.", Censura, the censorship or judgement. 1641 Milton Ch. Govt. II. iii. (1851) 157 Other things than a Christian censorship. 1856 Froude "Hist. Eng." I. 292 There was no censorship upon speech. 1875 Jowett "Plato (ed.2)" V 42 If I were a lawgiver, I would exercise a censorship over the poets. 1879 "Encycl. Brit. IX". 143 A notable incident in the history of the stage, inasmuch as it led to the institution of dramatic censorship. 1912 "Times" 4 July 6/2 (heading) Cinematographic film censorship. 1918B. Miall tr. "A. Hamons Lessons of World War" 146 The censorship of all correspondence was a stupendous task. 1930 "Times" 17 Febr. 15/5 Mr. Shaw on Film Censorship.

    b. spec. of the press; see CENSOR sb. 2b. 1827 Hallam "Const. Hist." (1876) III. xv. 166 Even during the existence of a censorship, a host of unlicensed publications... bore witness in the inefficacy of its restrictions. 1841 W. Spaulding "Italy & It. Isl. III" 80 In the middle of 1806, a decree of the viceroy declared, that no literary censorship should be instituted. 1855 Macaulay "Hist. Eng. IV". 540 The law which subjected the press to a censorship. 1876 Green "Short Hist." viii. 5 (1882) 514 The censorship struck fierce blows at the Puritan press.

    c. as a university or college office 1880 T. Fowler "Locke" ii. 12 The Censorship of Natural Philosophy...he appears never to have held.

  3. Psychol. + CENSOR sb. 4; the function of a mental censor. 1924 W.B. Selbie "Psych. Relig." 80 Unpleasant experiences...driven out of consciousness, and kept there by means of what Freud calls a censorship. Ibid. 90 The repressions and censorships of which Freud and others make so much are connected with changes in the nervous system. 1925 tr. "Freud's Coll. Papers" VI. iii. 54 Dream formation takes place under the sway of a censorship which compels distortion of the dream thoughts.

A Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles, Vol. I, Univerity of Chicago Press, 1938.

censorship. A system of military surveillence providing for censors; the position of a censor in such a system.­ 1899 "Atlantic Monthly" LXXXIII. 425/2 With ...the establishment of censorship at Santiago, Key West, and New York, the efforts of the enemy became most energetic. Ib. 428/2 A supplement to this news (of the destruction of Cervera's fleet) which was one of the most impressive and interesting events of my censorship. 1901 "Forum" XXXI, 463 A military censorship over the American people was maintained until after the second election of Mr. McKinley. 1918 H.C. Lodge in "N. Amer. Rev." CCVIII. 704 The Associated Press and all other news agencies serving American newspapers have agreed to submit to censorship.

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, William Morris (editor), Houghton Mifflin Co., 1973

censorship n. 1. the act or process of censoring. 2. The office or authority of a censor. 3. A program or policy of censoring. 4. Psychoanalysis. The inhibition of either ego or superego of conscious awareness of painful feelings or ideas.

Academic American Encyclopedia from Prodigy on-line


Censorship is a word of many meanings. In its broadest sense it refers to suppression of information, ideas, or artistic expression by anyone, whether government officials, church authorities, private pressure groups, or speakers, writers, and artists themselves. It may take place at any point in time, whether before an utterance occurs, prior to its widespread circulation, or by punishment of commincators after dissemination of their messages, so as to deter others from like expression. In its narrower, more legalistic sense, censorship means only the prevention by official government action of the circulation of messages already produced. Thus writers who "censor" themselves before putting words on paper, for fear of failing to sell their work, are not engaging in censorship in this narrower sense, or are those who boycott sponsors of disliked television shows. Yet all of these restraints have the effect of limiting the diversity that would otherwise be available in the marketplace of ideas and so may be considered censorship in its broadest sense.

There are almost as many justifications offered for the suppression of communication as there are would-be censors, but at root the motivation is always the same. It is a fear that the expression, if not curtailed, will do harm to individuals in its audience, or to society as a whole. Thus so-called obscene material is attacked because of a fear that it will corrupt personal morality or perhaps even lead to deviant sexual acts. School textbooks and library materials are sought to be purged by groups who fear that they may inculcate subversive values in children. Information concerning national security is controlled by government, with particular severity in wartime, for fear that its revelation may aid an enemy. In the judicial system, pretrial publicity about a crime may jeopardize a fair trial. Publication of personal information by police (such as the names of rape victims) or by the press (such as one's sexual preferences) may seriously intrude on one's right to privacy. The fear of such consequences, real or imagined, is what drives the censorial impulse.

Censorship has been practiced in both the narrower and the broader senses as long as there have been organized cultures. Those societies which have been most confident of their principles and of the loyalty of their members have allowed the greatest freedom from censorship, for they have been the least fearful of the consequences of dissent. In societies whose values have not been fully accepted by their people or whose leadership rests on shaky foundations, the heaviest hand of censorship has fallen. The relative prevalence of censorship is one of the features that has most distinguished autocratic from democratic societies and is most obvious in the thorough going preventive censorship practiced today in nations such as Communist Albania. Nevertheless, even the freest of nations find some forms of censorship necessary.

Scott Foresman Advanced Dictionary, E.L. Thorndike and Clarence L. Barnhart, Scott Foresman and Company, 1988.

censorship, n. 1.act or system of censoring: Censorship of news is common in time of war. 2.position or work of a censor.

censore s. m. [dal lat. censor -oris, der. di censere: v. CENSIRE], - 1. Nella Roma antica, nome dei due magistrati incaricati di compiere il censimento (e in seguito addetti snche al controllo della condotta morale e civile dei cittadini, all'amministrazione dei beni dello stato, alla costrazione di opere pubbliche). 2. Nell'etą medievale e moderna, funzionario preposto all'abbondanze; magistrato incaricato di vigilare sulle elezioni, sulla sicurezza pubblica, sulla legittimitą di determinati provvedimenti, sulla necessitą di certe spese, ecc. 3. Chi, per intarico dello Stato o della Chiesa, ha l'ufficio di riverdere scritti, componimenti drammatici, pellķcole cinematografiche, per guidicare se possa esserne permessa la pubblicazione o rappresentazione. 4. Colui che, in alcune accademie, aveva o ha ancora l'incarico di esaminare gli scritti che devono essere letti o publicati negli Arti accademici. 5. Nei convitti, il superiore che pił direttamente sorveglia la disciplina dei convittori; in partic. , sei convitti annessi agli istituti d'istruzione tecnica e a quelli ad indirizzo agrario, c. di disciplina, qualifica del personale di vigilanxza. 6. Nel linguaggio com., per lo pił iron. o spreg. (spec. nelle locuz. fare il c., erigersi a c.), persona che critica e biasima i costumi, le azioni, le opere altrui, spesso pił per malignitą che a fin di bene: era poi un rigido c. degli uomini che non si regolavan com lui (Manzoni). Con Questo sign., si ha anche il femm. censora.

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