Word Of The Month: Halloween
The end of October is when all the ghosts and goblins come out. 31 October is Halloween and that is our word of the month. Presented here is something of a Halloween bestiary of spooks and specters (and some commonplace things) that one might find on the last night of the month.
Halloween, n., holiday celebrated on 31 October, supposedly the night that witches and demons emerge. The word is a clipping of All-Hallow Even. The modern, clipped form is from the 18th century, but All Hallow’s Eve dates to the 16th, and Allhallowmass, denoting all the saints, dates to 1083. According to the Celtic calendar, 1 November was the first day of the New Year. The night of last day of October was Old Year’s Night or the night of the witches. With the coming of Christianity, it was transformed into a holiday to celebrate the saints.
Bogle, n., a spectre, goblin, or phantom. Various forms exist, including boggard, boggart, boggle, and bogy. From 1500 in Scottish literature, in England a bit later. The ultimate origin is unknown, but it may be from the Welsh bwg or bug in English, also meaning a goblin or spectre.
Candy, n., a sweet confection, especially crystallized sugar. From the French candi, found in sucre candi. It makes its English appearance c. 1420 as sugar candy, clipped to candy by 1769.
Chocolate, n. and adj., a beverage (originally) or food made from cacao seeds and other flavorings. From the French chocolat, ultimately from the Mexican chocolatl. It is, interestingly, etymologically unrelated to cacao or cocoa.
Costume, n., clothing intended to represent a particular period or character. From the French, which in turn is from the Italian, and which ultimately is from the Latin consuetudinem (Cf. custom). In English use since 1715. Originally a term used by Italian performance artists.
Demon, n., an evil spirit or being. From the Latin daemon, which in turn is taken from Greek mythos. From 1387 in English usage, but the earliest English usages reflect the Greek sense, a spirit that often guides the affairs of men. The sense of an evil being dates to c. 1400.
Fiend, n., the original meaning is simply an opponent or foe. From the Old English féond. The word originally appears in Beowulf. By c. 1000 fiend was being applied to Satan (the foe of humanity) or to other demons. Applied to evil people by c. 1220.
Ghost, n., now primarily used to denote the spirit of a deceased person who manifests itself to the living (1386). From the Old English gást, cognates are found in other West Germanic languages. Earlier senses include the soul or spirit of life; a spirit, good, evil, or neutral; the spirit of God (now only used in the phrase Holy Ghost); all dating to c. 1000 or earlier.
Ghoul, n., an evil spirit that robs graves and feeds on human corpses, by extension a human that does the same. From the Arabic ghūl, originally from Arabian folklore. Found in English from 1786.
Goblin, n., a demon. From the obsolete French gobelin. In use in English by c. 1327. The French word is not recorded until the 16th century, but there are 12th century references to a demon with the name Gobelinus. The ultimate origin is not known, perhaps from the Medieval Latin cobalus, a rogue or knave.
Imp, n., a small devil or demon. From the Old English impa. The original sense was a graft or scion of a tree or plant, from c. 897. It was applied to children by c. 1380. The sense of a child of the devil or of hell dates to 1526.
Jack O’Lantern, n., a lantern made from a hollowed-out pumpkin and a candle, with holes cut in the rind to represent eyes, nose, and mouth. This sense dates to 1837. Older senses meaning a man with a lantern and a will-o’-the-wisp date to the 17th century.
Lycanthrope, n., a mentally ill person who imagines himself an animal, especially a wolf. Recorded in ancient Greek texts, it makes its English appearance in 1584 (lycanthropy). From the Greek for wolf + man. 19th century writers began using it as synonym for werewolf.
Mischief Night, n., night that children commit pranks and vandalism, often with the mistaken belief that the law allows them one night a year to do so. Various nights of the year qualify depending on the region. 30 October, the night before Halloween, is a popular choice. Called Devil’s Night in some parts of the US (e.g., Michigan), it is often associated with arson and more serious crimes. From 1865.
Ogre, n., a man-eating monster, a giant. English usage dates to 1713. From the French. First used in that language in 1697. Possibly formed from the Italian dialectical *ogro, which may be from the Latin orca, or whale.
Orc, n., a monster or ogre. From 1598. Perhaps taken from the Latin orca, a whale. Although there is a single use of orcneas in Beowulf to denote monsters. A rare word until J.R.R. Tolkien used it in The Hobbit (1937) to describe a warlike race of goblins.
Pumpkin, n., a type of orange squash, Cucurbita pepo. A 17th century alteration of pompion, which in turn is from an obsolete French name for the melon.
Spook, n., a spectre, apparition, or ghost. From 1801 in American usage, 1859 in British. Either from the Dutch spook or the German spuk. Forms first appear in Middle Low German, the ultimate etymology is not known.
Trick or Treat, int., traditional American request for candy given by children going door-to-door in their neighborhoods, originally a threat of vandalism unless they were appeased with candy. Surprisingly, the term can only be dated to 1941, when the Saturday Evening Post published a poem by that title. In 1937 that magazine ran a cover illustration titled Trick or Treaters. The practice may not be that much older, perhaps only dating to the 1930s, instituted as a means of controlling children bent on mischief.
Troll, n., from Scandinavian mythology a race of supernatural beings. Once depicted as giants, they shrunk over the centuries and became a dwarfish race living a subterranean existence. From the Swedish and Old Norse troll. The word makes its English appearance in the 19th century, except in the Shetland and Orkney Islands where it has survived as a relic of the Norse dialect originally spoken there. The modern Shetland/Orkney form is trow.
Vampire, n., a supernatural being that feeds of the blood of humans. In English use from c. 1734. The English word is borrowed from French. The ultimate origin is uncertain. Some trace it to the Hungarian vampir, others to Serbian. Cognates exist in most European languages.
Warlock, n., primarily used today to mean a male witch. From the Old English wǽrloga, originally meaning an oath breaker or traitor. The word has had many senses including: a wicked person; a damned soul; Satan; a devil or demon; and a monster; all of which date to c. 1000 or before. The sense of a person or demon in league with Satan and who practices sorcery dates to the 14th century.
Werewolf, n., a person who is capable of changing into a wolf, usually, according to folklore, during a full moon. The word makes one appearance in Old English, werewulf, c. 1000. Usually thought to be a combination of wer (man) + wulf (wolf), but the extra e confounds linguists, it shouldn’t be there. Other combining forms drop the e, as in wergeld. Cognates exist in Dutch and German.
Wicca, n., the name given to the modern, religious practice of witchcraft. Revival of the Old English wicca (Cf. witch). In modern use since 1959.
Witch, n., a practitioner of magic or sorcery, usually depicted as a woman, but a witch can be either male or female. From the Old English wicca (masc., c. 890) and wicce (fem., c. 1000).
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton