Easily Confused Words: Scepter vs. Specter

Scepter and specter are easily confused words.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Scepter (pronounced “sehp+tehr”) is a noun. It means the ornate, often precious metal staff carried by a member of royalty, like the Queen of England, to symbolize power. [In British English, it’s spelled sceptre but pronounced the same as “scepter.”]

Specter (pronounced “speck+turr”) is a noun. It means a visible spirit, like a ghost or phantom, that induces terror, fear, or horror. In a figurative sense, it can mean the presence of something disturbing, perhaps seeing one’s worst fears realized, like starvation, debt, or illness. [In British English, it’s spelled spectre but pronounced the same as “specter.”]

The following story uses both words correctly:

On a tour of Canterbury Cathedral, Catrin swore she saw specters of various historic figures, like King Henry II dressed in royal robes and carrying a scepter. She thought she heard voices arguing, and saw another spirit fall to the ground, attacked by a group of spirits. Little did she know college students were in another room re-enacting the play, Becket. As her group toured the site, she was catching glimpses of rehearsals out of the corner of her eye.


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