Since the news is haunting me these days, why not a post on ghosts?
Ghost was spelled gast in Old English, and meant soul, spirit, life, breath, angel or demon (yes, both good & bad spirits). It made it to English through various Germanic languages, all beginning with the Proto-Indo-European root gheis-, to be excited, amazed or frightened.
Spook showed up in the language in 1801 from the Dutch word, spooc, meaning spook or ghost. Its sister words include: from Danish, spØg, meaning joke, from German, spuk, meaning ghost or apparition, from Swedish spoc, meaning scarecrow. It may have relatives in Lithuanian, Lettish, & Prussian, where the root words in question meant respectively to shine, dragon or witch, & spark. Spook didn’t move into the world of verbs (meaning to unnerve) until 1935.
Spirit showed up in English in the 1200s, meaning animating principle in man & animals. It came from the Latin word spiritus, meaning soul, courage, vigor, or breath, from the verb spirare, which meant to breathe, to blow, or to play the flute. By the 1300s, spirit also referred to supernatural beings, by 1610 it picked up the meaning volatile substance, by the 1670s it began to mean strong alcoholic liquor, & by the 1690s spirit also meant the essential principle of something.
The Scots gave us the word wraith. Its roots may be in the Old Norse word vorðr, meaning guardian, or the Gaelic word arrach, meaning apparition or spirit. Even as I type, intrepid & dedicated etymologists are duking it out over wraith’s true origin.
Good followers, what have you to say about flute-playing spirits, angelic ghosts, Scottish wraiths, or other topics in this ghostly vein?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com, The OED & Wordnik.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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