25 Synonyms for “Delete”

By Mark Nichol

The word delete did not loom large in the general vocabulary until the personal-computer revolution exposed us all to the keyboard key labeled with the word based on the Latin term delēre, meaning “to wipe out” or “destroy.” Modern usage is not so vivid; the term is usually neutral in connotation. But many of its synonyms come with a more potent and portentous sense of removal.

1. Bowdlerize: This word, derived from the surname of an editor notorious for removing words and passages he considered vulgar, connotes puritanical pruning.

2. Censor: The connotation of this word, originally a Latin term for an official charged with approving literary works, is of removal of content considered subversive or dangerous to the stability of the state and society.

3. Efface: This term, from an Anglo-French word literally meaning “un-face,” refers to the physical act of removal, but in the context of content, it suggests removing content so as to eliminate it from memory. The verb also refers to wearing away or making inconspicuous.

4. Eradicate: The Latin progenitor of this word, eradicatus, literally means “pull up from roots,” but the contemporary sense is similar to that of efface. However, the idea is that the content is destroyed from the roots up rather than from the surface down.

5. Erase: The Latin predecessor, erasus, which means “to scratch or scrape,” refers to the removal of ink from parchment or paper or of incisions in clay by literally abrading the surface, which a modern rubber eraser does more gently. The sense, however, is of an action just as definitive.

6. Excise: Excise literally means “to cut out,” as if referring to an element lifted out from the whole.

7. Expunge: The literal translation of the Latin term expungere is “to dot out,” from when words were marked for deletion by making dots underneath them. An idiom employing this word, “expunge from the record,” indicates the modern sense of elimination from documentation.

8. Expurgate: The meaning of this word is clear from its central element — it means “to purge,” to remove objectionable material. An unexpurgated version of a document retains the original content.

9. Launder: To launder language is to clean it by removing objectionable material.

10. Obliterate: The root of obliterate is disguised by the pronunciation of the first two consonants as a blend; its elements are ob and literate. The Latin term from which the word is derived, oblitteratus, literally means “against letters.” The sense of obliterate is of definitive destruction.

11. Omit: This word’s Latin forbear originally had the same prefix as obliterate. The other element, found in admit, remit, and submit, means “to let go or send.” Now, omit means “to leave out.”

12. Redact: Redact means “to select for removal.” It is also a synonym for edit, but the primary sense is of removing sensitive information in documents, usually by superimposing blocks of black marks over the text.

13. Repress: This is perhaps the most figurative of the synonyms for delete, in that it refers to preventing expression.

14. Silence: Though this word is normally associated with speaking and hearing, rather than writing and reading, it has a figurative connotation of removing the means of communication.

15. Suppress: Suppress differs only slightly in form and meaning from repress (“hold down,” as compared to “hold back”); the connotation is of authoritarian action to block publication.

16-25: Idiomatic expressions for delete include “black out,” “blot out,” “rub out,” and “wipe out.” Informal single-word synonyms are bleep, blip, clip, cut, and crop. (The first two derive from acoustic deletion but are sometimes applied to writing.) The most colorful of terms stems from the nearly obsolete tradition of using a brightly colored writing instrument to make deletions stand out on a page: red-pencil.

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3 Responses to “25 Synonyms for “Delete””

  • Strange Tastes

    There’s four new words for me to lock into my long-term memory. Thanks!

    Also, please don’t ‘expunge’ this crude show of sycophancy!

    I’m-a just leave this here: http://humansareweird.wordpress.com/ *tippy-toes away*

    (Sorry, just started blogging, trying to expand my readership, really love this site, trying to steal some of your readers)

    *sharing is caring*

  • Sally

    You forgot

    * ‘annihilate = reduce to nothing’ (nowadays even sporting teams can be annihilated :O)

    * ‘decimate’ – originally ‘to kill every tenth man, chosen by lot, in a rebellious Roman legion’ (A friend once asked “Who else but the Romans would even need such a word?”)

    * ‘exterminate’ – originally ‘to drove out, beyond the boundaries,’ and later ‘to destroy utterly’ (the favourite word of fans of the UK TV series, Dr Who)

    😀

  • S.R. Perricone

    Dear Mark, Please add elide and it’s various forms to your list. Though used in editing, it does connote a form a deletion. Love your site. Keep up the good work.
    sr

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