Redact

By Maeve Maddox

A reader has requested a discussion of the word redact:

Your article on degrade…reminded me of redact, a verb whose meaning is shifting because the usual context in which it is used nowadays is when a document is partially censored or has portions elided. Perhaps you would like to do an article on redact.

The current use of redact to mean “elide or delete” is not so much a shifting of meaning as the development of a narrowed meaning that exists in addition to other established meanings.

The earliest OED citations of redact (1475) show it used in the sense of “to combine”:

Romulus redacte alle the cites in to oon.
[Romulus redacted all the cities into one.]

The Romanes didde redresse and redacte these lawes of Salon in to x tables.
[The Romans did redress (reform) and redact these laws of Solon into ten tables.]

The sense of redact to mean, “to combine ideas and writings,” developed to mean, “to prepare a text for publication.”

The noun redaction (something that has been edited for publication) is first recorded in the 18th century.

Both redact and redaction continue to be used to refer to the act of editing in the sense that editing includes collecting, organizing, and deleting portions of texts that are being readied for publication.

A special branch of biblical study is called “redaction criticism.” It concerns itself with the motives of the people who compiled, edited, and organized texts into their existing state.

When government censors are called upon to redact soldiers’ letters during wartime, or to prepare classified documents for public release, the only aspect of editing that concerns them is deletion. A document “redacted” by a censor may have words and whole paragraphs blacked out. For that reason, the words redact and redaction have come to be synonymous with delete and censorship in the minds of many speakers.

Not all dictionaries have caught up with this use of redact. The paid versions of M-W and OED that I use do not recognize the new usage.

The free M-W Online, on the other hand, offers these definitions:

redact:
1. to put in writing
2. to select or adapt (as by obscuring or removing sensitive information) for publication or release
3. to obscure or remove (text) from a document prior to publication or release

In addition to their use to refer to the censoring of sensitive documents, redact and redaction have become computer terms:

The technique of Blacking out parts of screenshots and other images is called Redaction. Being able to blackout, or redact, parts of an image is easily done with the Preview App that is always shipped out on all Mac computers.

Click and hold your mouse down at one end of the text you want to black out (redact).

Context should provide the necessary clue to how redact and redaction are being used. For example:

As Professor Chauvin remarks in an Appendix to that work, the Persian redaction of this tale was made in modern times.

The Gilbert Public Schools Governing Board voted to redact pages from its textbooks tied to abortion and reproduction.

The [Carolingian] writer of these notes had plans to redact them into a set text, but never really got to do so.

The only caveat I would offer regarding the use of redact in the sense of obliterate is to avoid the tautology “redact out”:

If I scan a page and want to go in and redact out 10 blemishes, I have to keep going to the menu to select “mark for redaction” each time.

Please redact out references to social security numbers and birth date on transcript copies.

Redact is a transitive verb:

I want to go in and redact 10 blemishes.

Please redact references to social security numbers.

No out needed.

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