Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Wed Dec 22 17:50:29 UTC 2004

On Dec 22, 2004, at 9:09 AM, Baker, John wrote:

>         I think it's just a case of an obscure word being tapped to
> fill a need.  I have to redact documents on a regular basis (i.e.,
> edit them to remove identifying, privileged, or irrelevant
> information).  If that were to be described as just editing them, it
> would not be clear without additional explanation, and I cannot
> offhand think of any other words that would make sense.

i think the question here is: when and in what circumstances did
"redact" develop from its general 'edit' sense (reported by NSOED from
the mid-19th century) -- essentially, a fancy or technical *synonym* of
"edit" -- to this more specific sense?  the development is natural
enough, but it wasn't inevitable (though, like all linguistic changes,
from the point of view of the users of the innovative form it might
seem so).

in any case, the long-established verb for this sort of activity was
"censor" (and "black out" could easily have been specialized for this
purpose; it describes well the particular method used for censoring,
and is appropriately restricted to written or printed material [1]).
at some point someone decided that "censor" needed replacement (and
fixed on the learned verb "redact") -- undoubtedly because censorship
is so, well, *nasty*.  the development  looks to me like linguistic
laundering of vocabulary.

the development is recent enough that it's not in AHD4, which has only
the older, more general, sense.  i'm away from my dictionary trove at
the moment, so i can't speak about other dictionaries.  a lot of the
google hits are for the older sense, but then there's:
Pixel-counting can un-redact government docs
  A Luxembourgian/Irish security research team have presented a paper on
a technique for identifying words that have been blacked out of
documents, as when government docs are published with big
strikethroughs over the bits that are sensitive to national security.
Delta Dental Plan will redact all but the last four digits of the SSNs
on electronically submitted documents and on ID cards. ... pdfs/Fall%202003%20Check%20Up.pdf

"redaction" has a parallel sense in some contexts, not surprisingly.

[1] is "redact" ever used to describe the censoring of audio material,
that is to describe bleeping (out)?

arnold (zwicky at

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