Actor – acta - (acter)

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Actor and acta form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.

To Bridges' 1919 list, AWE has added acter, rarely used outside a theatrical context.

  • Acta (more properly acta: it is a Latin word, and problems over the pronunciation of Classical Latin may have contributed to the 'questioning of their homophony' which is at the heart of his List VI). It means 'acts', 'deeds', 'things done', and is most commonly found in the titles of books and so on; notably in the monumental hagiographical work of the Bollandists, Acta Sanctorum ('The Lives [or deeds] of the Saints').
    • The (not common) borrowing into English of acta is also used as a title, roughly equivalent to 'Register (of transactions, decrees, proceedings, etc.)' (OED, 2010).
  • An actor is one who acts,
    • originally in a court of law, advocating for a defendant or prosecuting (on behalf of the state);
    • later, in Parliament or other bodies, and in general society, to 'get things done' (this may be used figuratively of things as well as people, as when money is labelled 'the actor of mischief');
    • most commonly, in the twenty-first century, one who plays a part ('acts' - that is, pretends to be someone else in a performance, usually of a scipt written by a playwright, screen writer, etc) on stage or on screen (in film or television). It is nowadays used as an epicene noun, whereas it was normal before about 2010 to use actress for female actors.
  • Also in the field of drama, acter is the proper spelling of a noun usually constituting the second element of a compound after a number, such as one-acter (i.e., a play consisting of a single act, the commonest use) or five-acter (i.e., a play consisting of five acts, the highest usual value, because of its predominance in classic plays). These terms may often imply a value-judgment: a jobbing actor may say, after winning a part in a stage play, "Oh, it's only a one-acter", by which she means 'a small insignificant piece of writing/entertainment'. If her next part is in a five-acter, she may claim a more serious piece of work. (A 'one-actor play', on the other hand, is a monologue.)