Four “Censor” Words to Keep Straight

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Don’t mix up censor, censure, sensor and censer

These four words sound very similar when spoken, making them easy to mix up. Censor and censure, particularly, are often muddled as they are related words coming from the same Latin root. However, they do have distinct meanings and you should be aware of what the differences are. 

Both censor and censure derive ultimately from the same Latin word censere meaning “to assess”. However, their meanings have diverged. To censor something (typically a film or a book) means to suppress or remove those parts of it that are considered unacceptable for some reason. To censure something, on the other hand – a term often applied to a person or an organization – means to express strong disapproval about it; to criticize harshly or condemn. 

So, for example, early editions of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, were famously censored, with various words and passages removed. Of course, it’s fair to say that those responsible for censoring this book would also have censured it if asked : they would have strongly disapproved of it. But it’s possible to censure something without censoring it. Politicians or companies, for example, can be censured for some perceived mistake without something they’ve written or said being censored. A UK newspaper, for example, recently reported that the food group Kraft “has been censured by the body that polices City takeovers” for breaking a promise to keep a Cadbury factory in the UK open. 

Both censor and censure can also be nouns as well as verbs. A censor is someone who performs the examination of books, films etc, to decide whether they should be censored. A censure, meanwhile, is simply a statement of strong disapproval or condemnation. 

Sensor, meanwhile, is always a noun and refers to some device or apparatus that detects or measures a physical property of something. In Star Trek, for example, sensors are routinely used to analyse the physical surroundings of a spaceship or an individual. 

Censer, finally, is an unrelated word meaning a container in which incense is burnt during a religious ritual. Its origin is a different Latin word : incendere, meaning to burn.

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4 thoughts on “Four “Censor” Words to Keep Straight”

  1. E. A. Poe wrote:

    Then, methought, the air grew denser,
    perfumed from an unseen censer
    swung by seraphim, whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor
    (can’t help hearing Basil Rathbone’s voice as I write that…)

    I always thought it would be better if the seraphim were swinging a censor (human scum) 🙂

  2. A sensor indicates that the shuttlecraft is in the hangar (not the “hanger” like it was spelled on Star Trek). A hangar is where you put the shuttlecraft, a hanger is where you put your coat.

    I think we all want to write gooder fastly.

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