A censor hides information. A censure is harsh criticism. They’re both judgments and they both stink.

Definition:

censor

A censor takes out things that are objectionable or inappropriate, like the censors at the TV networks bleeping out all the bad words in a show.

To put it simply, a censor judges. Originating in the 1530’s, a censor was originally a Roman magistrate who took censuses and oversaw public morals. Censors today are hired by TV stations, publishers and the government to examine books, films and other material and strip out or flag all the amoral, offensive or otherwise bad stuff. Thankfully, in the U.S. free speech usually wins out over censorship.

censure

Censure is a noun referring to very strong criticism; the verb means to criticize very strongly. If you take your dad’s car without telling him, you can expect him to censure you severely, and maybe even ground you as well.

The noun and verb are most closely associated with official expressions of disapproval, as when Congress censures a senator. The noun is from Latin cēnsūra“censorship,” from cēnsor “an ancient Roman censor.” The job of a Romancensor was to take the census and to supervise public morals and behavior. Our English word censor––which means to suppress speech or other forms of expression––is from this Latin word.

Foul language, nudity, and revolutionary ideas are often censored, or hidden, by some gang who’s in charge, such as a government, the FCC, or your parents when they kick you out of the room for the best part of the movie. Censor can act as a verb or a noun:

But Iran routinely censors the Internet using sophisticated filtering technology. (Wall Street Journal)

The catalog reproduces a news photograph of “beach censors” arresting women in such offending garb. (New York Times)

Censure is a strong dislike. When you strongly disapprove of something, usually in an official capacity, you are censuring that something, like when the student council censures your idea to have a pool party in December. Here are more examples:

“They’re tired of being censured or criticized,” Dr. McKenna said. (Time)

While Maud, still smarting inwardly from her father’s recent sharp censure, had not dared to brave Mr. Warren’s certain anger by doing so. (Laura Dent Crane)

They sound alike but not the same: censor sounds like senser and censure sounds likesenshure. Remember: to be censored is to be stopped from saying something; to be censuredis to be reprimanded after you’ve said it.

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