Later editions of C.S. Lewis 'The Magician's Nephew' have been edited, presumably to reflect modern usage.

Polly went down and had her bathe; at least she said that was what she'd been doing, but we know she was not much of a swimmer and perhaps it is best not to ask too many questions. (pre-2016)


Polly went down and had her bath; at least she said that was what she'd been doing, but we know she was not much of a swimmer and perhaps it is best not to ask too many questions. (post-2016)

The meaning of the latter seems quite straightforward, since having a bath in modern English simply means to immerse (and wash) oneself in water, whereas the meaning of the former is less obvious to me.

Is "having her bathe" merely a slightly archaic way of saying 'having a bath' or is it more akin to 'making her toilette' (e.g. washing, but also dressing and attending to one's appearance) and has the edit from one to the other fundamentally changed the meaning, in the same way that changing 'making her toilette' would alter its meaning if I edited it to 'going to the toilet'?


2 Answers 2


According to the OED, the intransitive verb "to bathe" means "to take a bath; or to plunge or immerse oneself in water or other liquid, so as to enjoy its influence". "To bath" has also been used in the same way. The examples given include:

  • 1765 W. Cowper: It is a noble Stream to bath in.
  • 1863 A. P. Stanley: The princess came down..to bathe in the sacred river.

Note that these verbs do not necessarily imply use of a bathtub or other vessel, unless in transitive form "to bath [eg a baby]", and they don't necessarily imply washing either.

But confusingly the noun forms are used differently:

"A bath", as a noun, normally refers specifically to what in US English would be called a bathtub, namely "a vessel or receptacle intended to contain water for the purpose of bathing".

"A bathe", also as a noun, refers to the "act of bathing" and is used when the bathing is not being done in a bathtub or similar. This usage is said to be "of modern origin" - but obviously not that modern as the examples given are:

  • 1827 R. Southey: A two hours' walk, and a bathe in the Greta.
  • 1861 Saturday Review: A mountain stream in which the happy party took every day their morning bathe.

The expression "to take a bath" (very similar to "had her bath" as used here) means, according to the OED, "to bathe, especially in a place or vessel prepared for the purpose" [such as a bathtub]. It its now chiefly used to mean "to wash oneself in a bath" [bathtub]:

  • 1960 L. Wright: A statistician tells us that of our neighbours on a London bus today, one in five never takes a bath.
  • 2002 C. Slaughter: Take a bath, brush your hair, put on some shoes.

By analogy, "had her bathe" would mean bathed, but not in a bathtub or similar.

Quite why an editor should have changed "had her bathe" to "had her bath" is unclear, especially as it's likely to suggest to modern readers, as it apparently did to you, that some washing is involved. My guess is that someone simply 'corrected' the rather uncommon phrase "had her bathe" to the much more common "had her bath" without thinking too deeply about the potential change of meaning. A better amendment would have been "Polly went down and bathed".

In the context of the book, the change from "bathe" to "bath" wasn't I think intended to change the meaning, which evidently refers to going for a swim. There is no necessary implication of washing, dressing or attending to appearance in either case.


I note, first off, that the "bathe" in question is going for a swim. (This is why "swim suits" are also called "bathing suits.")

But the only noun usage offered by the Cambridge dictionary is

an occasion when you swim or spend time in water:

That is, the noun "bathe" appears to mean only the swim meaning that "bath" can also mean.

This usage is one I have also seen in Victorian literature, so it's older than Lewis.

  • And while that's true, is that what it meant when C.S Lewis wrote it?
    – Valorum
    Nov 8, 2021 at 23:13
  • 1
    This doesn't address the change in the text from one edition to another, which seems to be (judging from the title) the OP's main question.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 9, 2021 at 5:25

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