Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: Scary Language

On this most terrifying night of the year (excluding the X Factor final), we're taking a look at scariness with some of our favourite scary words.

Spooky, eerie, ooze, creepy and ghoul all have double vowels. We're not sure whether or not doubling up on your vowels automatically makes things scary, but there's certainly a good number of words to support the idea.

All pumpkins are like this before they put on the fake tan.

What about costumes? Some of our favourites have some pretty interesting linguistic roots:

Ghost

Ghost originally meant spirit of man. As in his (or her, in order to be politically correct, which we always are!) life-force, being, etc. It has taken on other meanings nowadays.

The use of spook to refer to a ghost comes from Dutch usage in the United States, and the word wraith is of Scottish origins. French gave us phantom from the Greek phantasma, and poltergeist is actually just a "noisy ghost" in German.

Zombie

The terrifying walking dead came about from Haitian religious beliefs and voodoo. Nowadays zombies are quite trendy and a cult phenomenon. People take part in zombie walks and enjoy literature based on the ever impending zombie apocalypse.

Vampire

We're talking about real vampires, not the camp ones that sparkle. We remember when vampires used to suck blood and not just plain suck. The word vampire came about from French via German. As you may already know, vampires come from Transylvania. The word vampire, however, is more likely from Slavic languages, in particular Serbian. Although most Slavic languages have similar terminology for our blood-sucking sunlight-fearing emo-enthralling creatures of the night, the word can also be found in languages as far away as Polish, Ukranian and Belarusian.

Mummy

The original Egyptian monster. The word itself comes from, you guessed it, Arabic! The word was mūmiya (موميا) and literally meant "embalmed corpse". It found its way into Latin as mumia and eventually transformed into mummy and led to many terrible puns within in British culture (mummy being the equivalent of mommy for those unaware).

So what if we made a "mummy" pun!
Don't tut!

Frankenstein's Monster

Often incorrectly referred to as Frankenstein (who was in fact the doctor, not the monster), Frankenstein's Monster actually had no name, only a series of labels. For clarity we'll refer to him as Frankie.

It's a nightmare picking the right pair.

Since there can't really be an etymology for Frankie, we'll explain something else. One of Frankie's less-affectionate nicknames was "the wretch". Wretch originally referred to someone in exile, or famous warriors or heroes. The meaning was warped beyond recognition in English to eventually mean a despicable or contemptible person. Poor Frankie.

Happy Halloween!