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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)

and

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'?

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3 Answers 3

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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.

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  • Possibly, the reason for changing bathe to bath was that the noun bathe was slowly becoming obsolete. See Google Ngrams. And an obsolete word with the right meaning is ot as good as a common word with not-quite-the-right meaning.
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 5, 2023 at 20:16
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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.

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  • And while that's true, is that what it meant when C.S Lewis wrote it?
    – Valorum
    Nov 8, 2021 at 23:13
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    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
  • @. Rand-al'thor: Possibly, the reason for changing bathe to bath was that the noun bathe was slowly becoming obsolete. See Google Ngrams. And a common word with not-quite-the-right meaning is preferable to an obsolete word with the right meaning (although one could dispute this).
    – Peter Shor
    Nov 5, 2023 at 20:19
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The word bathe in this context is presumably identical in meaning to the word bath. This can be demonstrated by looking at other instances in the series where the same term is used.

In Chapter Six of The Horse and His Boy, the following passage occurs:

He suddenly realized that the others might have reached the Tombs while he was bathing ("and gone on without me, as likely as not"), so he dressed in a fright and tore back at such a speed that he was all hot and thirsty when he arrived and so the good of his bathe was gone.

Similarly, in Chapter Seven of Voyage of the Dawn Treader we have the following passage:

"I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

"But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

It seems clear that the author simply used the word "bathe" as an alternate spelling/word for the common word "bath". Thus, if the word/spelling was revised in later editions, it was presumably just to remove any confusion the original spelling might have generated.

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  • I don't think this follows. The use of "bathe" as a noun, as described in Michael's answer, is consistent with all of these appearances of the word.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Nov 5, 2023 at 20:18
  • @Randal'Thor As would the use of the word "bath". My point is that "bathe" is not intended to mean something beyond "bath" as the questioner suspected.
    – Alex
    Nov 5, 2023 at 20:26

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