If you see something you think might be a ghost, you can call it an apparition to hedge your bets. Apparition doesn't commit you in the same way the word ghost does—and saying that you've seen one won't cause you to be committed.

Deriving from the Latin apparere "appear," apparition was first used in 1520 in a religious context, referring to the moment when the three wise men appear before the infant Jesus in the Bible. Later, apparition came to include the appearance of ghosts, or ghostly figures. It can also mean a memory so vivid it's like seeing a ghost.

Definitions of apparition

n a ghostly appearing figure

“we were unprepared for the apparition that confronted us”
fantasm, phantasm, phantasma, phantom, specter, spectre
Flying Dutchman
the captain of a phantom ship (the Flying Dutchman) who was condemned to sail against the wind until Judgment Day
Type of:
disembodied spirit, spirit
any incorporeal supernatural being that can become visible (or audible) to human beings

n the appearance of a ghostlike figure

“I was recalled to the present by the apparition of a frightening specter”
Type of:
the event of coming into sight

n something existing in perception only

“a ghostly apparition at midnight”
fantasm, phantasm, phantasma, phantom, shadow
UFO, flying saucer, unidentified flying object
an (apparently) flying object whose nature is unknown; especially those considered to have extraterrestrial origins
Flying Dutchman
a phantom ship that is said to appear in storms near the Cape of Good Hope
ghost, shade, specter, spectre, spook, wraith
a mental representation of some haunting experience
Type of:
illusion, semblance
an erroneous mental representation

n an act of appearing or becoming visible unexpectedly

“natives were amazed at the apparition of this white stranger”
Type of:
the act of appearing in public view

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