• specter •
spek-têr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Ghost, apparition, disembodied spirit. 2. A dreadful mental image or idea that haunts the mind, lurking in the back of it, as 'the specter of poverty'. 3. A faint representation of something, as 'a specter of a smile'.
Notes: Specter comes with several adjectives, spectral and spectrish, both meaning "like a specter" and spectred "filled with specters". Remember, if you're in England to reverse the last two letters and spell the word spectre.
In Play: We seldom hear the word in its original meaning: "Lilly White bought a house in which she claims the specter of a previous owner occasionally flits about." It is more often used in reference to a lurking threat: "Horace raised the prices on all his goods despite the specter of inflation that lurks about."
Word History: Our English ancestors simply swallowed the French word spectre "image, figure; ghost" whole, but here in America we reversed the final two letters in keeping with the pronunciation. The French word was a redesign of Latin spectrum "appearance, image; apparition, ghost", derived from the verb specere "to look at". Latin inherited its word from PIE spek-/spok- "to watch, observe", found in a multitude of English Latinate borrowings, like aspect, inspect, suspect. In Greek we see an odd sort of metathesis: the P and K traded places to produce skopein "to look, consider", visible in all the Hellenic borrowings in English: scope, telescope, and microscope. The same thing happened in German to produce spähen "to spy". (Paula Ward thought this Good Word would be perfect around Halloween time. We should all agree and thank her for thinking of us.)
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