Saturday, November 20, 2010
Ghost, spectre, spirit, all refer to the disembodied soul of a person.
A ghost is the soul or spirit of a deceased person, which appears or otherwise makes its presence known to the living: the ghost of a drowned child. Also revenant, literally one who returns.
A spectre is a ghost or apparition of more or less weird, unearthly, or terrifying aspect: a frightening spectre. Also spook, phantom, phantasm...
Spirit is often interchangeable with ghost but may mean a supernatural being, usually with an indication of good or malign intent toward human beings: the spirit of a friend; an evil spirit.
A doppelganger is a ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.
Shade suggests a shadow or shadowy form.
A wraith is a visible spirit, sometimes an apparition of a living person, supposed to portend their death.
A poltergeist manifests its presence by noises and knockings, while a banshee, in Irish folklore, is a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to, or is heard by, members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die.
A dybbuk, according to Jewish folklore, is a demon or soul of a dead person that enters the body of a living person and directs their conduct.
A zombie is a dead body given the semblance of life by a supernatural force, usually for evil purpose.
A ghoul is an evil demon supposed to feed on humans, especially by robbing graves and feeding on corpses.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
O.E. gast "soul, spirit, life, breath," from P.Gmc. *ghoizdoz (cf. O.S. gest , O.Fris. jest, M.Du. gheest, Ger. Geist "spirit, ghost"), from PIE base *ghois- "to be excited, frightened" (cf. Skt. hedah "wrath;" Avestan zaesha- "horrible, frightful;" Goth. usgaisjan , O.E. gæstan "to frighten"). This was the usual W.Gmc. word for "supernatural being," and the primary sense seems to have been connected to the idea of "to wound, tear, pull to pieces." The surviving O.E. senses, however, are in Christian writing, where it is used to render L. spiritus , a sense preserved in Holy Ghost . Modern sense of "disembodied spirit of a dead person" is attested from c.1385 and returns the word toward its ancient sense. Most IE words for "soul, spirit" also double with ref. to supernatural spirits. Many have a base sense of "appearance" (e.g. Gk. phantasma ; Fr. spectre ; Pol. widmo , from O.C.S. videti "to see;" O.E. scin , O.H.G. giskin , originally "appearance, apparition," related to O.E. scinan , O.H.G. skinan "to shine"). Other concepts are in Fr. revenant , lit. "returning" (from the other world), O.N. aptr-ganga , lit. "back-comer." Bret. bugelnoz is lit. "night-child." L. manes , lit. "the good ones," is a euphemism. The gh- spelling appeared c.1425 in Caxton, influenced by Flem. and M.Du. gheest, but was rare in Eng. before c.1550. Sense of "slight suggestion" (in ghost image, ghost of a chance, etc.) is first recorded 1613; that in ghost writing is from 1884, but that term is not found until 1927. Ghost town is from 1931. Ghost in the machine was Gilbert Ryle's term (1949) for "the mind viewed as separate from the body."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper