spectre (n.)

I came upon this wonderful word while reading Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great over the autumn holidays. Literally it means ghost or phantom. But usually it signifies an event or object of terror, something that really has people scared. And often this object of fear is portrayed as looming just behind the horizon, an imminent danger ready to strike any moment.

The ghostlike nature of the spectre suggests that it might not yet be too late to ward against it. However, if you speak the word aloud you hear that this hope is probably in vain. The sharp hissing sound of the initial /s/ stopped abruptly by the /k/. Hearing that word is like being spit in the face, something you don’t recover easily from.

Hitchens uses the word to bring back to life one of the darkest periods of Christian history: “[T]he jihadist assault reconjured the bloodstained specter of the crusaders.”

Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, p. 35.

This is probably the most famous occurrence of the word: “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.” Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Preamble.

And apparently spectres also appear in Philip Pullman’s trilogy “His Dark Materials”. “They are creatures that resemble whisps of smoke, and eat your soul.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectre

How is that for haunting and scary?!

spectre at dictionary.com

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply