Spatter vs. splatter

To spatter is to scatter or dash (a liquid) in small drops. The small drops are key. For example, a light rain might spatter the roof.

Splatter, which came later and was probably formed by blending splash and spatter, has a similar meaning, but it doesn’t necessarily involve small drops. A splatter of liquid might be large and messy. For example, paint from an upturned bucket might splatter on the floor. Think of spatter as a synonym of sprinkle or spit, and splatter as closer to splash.

Still, this conventional distinction notwithstanding, the words are often used interchangeably.



A CSI team found lots of blood spatter after spraying the attic with luminol. [Washington Post]

They have paid around £250 for an unrestricted view of Kylie’s bum, and the privilege of being spattered with chlorinated water at the end. [Guardian]

The rain continued to spatter against the window. [San Diego Reader]


[F]ive others head off on four-wheeled ATVs for a mud-splattered off-road trek. []

Not to mention the deficit-whipped New York City of the 1970s, with a ravaged, graffiti-splattered subway system. [Denver Post]

The paint splatters, art textbooks, empty beer bottles and unmade bed on the floor come together to show Winston’s desperation and creativity. [Montgomery News]

1 thought on “Spatter vs. splatter”

  1. In a British Standard publication on welding that I read many years ago, spatter was regarded as the right word and splatter as wrong, when referring to the scattering of metallic particles during welding, rather similar to that produced by sparklers.


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