Oct 21, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Halloween Edition part 1

I adore Halloween, in case you haven't noticed, so this will be a two-parter. Yes, we love our creepy ghoulies here at Curiousthings.

Here we go.

Ghost, from Old English ghast "breath, spirit, angel, demon; man, person." In Biblical use "soul, spirit, life." It's interesting that most Indo-European words for ghost double with reference to supernatural spirits. Most have a base sense of appearance, like Greek phantasma, French spectre, Polish widmo, and Old Slavonic videti.  Then there's the concept of coming back from the otherworld, like the French revenant.

Let's continue with Ghoul. It comes from the Arabic ghul, a spirit that robs graves and feeds on the bodies, from ghala "he seized."

Skeleton comes from Latin sceleton, "bones of the body," from Greek skeleton soma "dried-up mummy, skeleton." So skeleton actually means dried up. Their got the meaning of "bare outline" from the 1600s, hence expressions like skeleton crew, skeleton key.

I think zombies will fit right in here. The word comes from West African zumbi "fetish" and nzambi "god." Originally it was the name of a snake god, later meaning "reanimated corpse" in the voodoo cult.

We've got room for one more dead dried-up thing: Mummy, from Medieval Latin mumia, from Arabic mumiyah, "embalmed body," from Persian mumiya, "asphalt, from mum, "wax."

I've done a whole post on vampires and witches were explored in the fairy tale edition, so click the links to explore those if you want.

See you next week for part two.


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