Halloween terminology

November 1, 2018 10:30 am



Continuing with the Halloween related articles we have been posting on TermCoord this week, the next in our thematically spooky list is taking a look at Halloween terminology. Did you know the origins of the following Halloween terms?


The word originally derives from Arabic from the word ghūl meaning ‘to seize’ and originally refered to a ‘legendary evil being held to rob graves and feed on corpses’ but has been found in English since approximately the late 1700s, when the word became known in the Western world following the release of the French translation of Arabian nights.


The origins of this word have come to mean something quite different to what we know of the term today. In the 13th century the word referrred to do something habitually, having come from the Old French hanter ‘to frequent, to visit regularly’  potentially coming from the Old Norse heimta  to ‘bring home’



This Halloween term comes from French spectre ‘an image, figure, ghost’ dating back to the 16th century and comes from the Latin spectrum meaning ‘apparition, appearance, vision’.


When Milton used the word in Paradise Lost, it had much darker, and far less comical connotations then it does now, as it was synonymous with death.


The exact etymology of this word isn’t known, with some definitions suggesting that it relates to elves, whereas others state the etymology refers specifically to the unnatural, frightful. The term has been found in print all the way back since the 1500s.



  • Peters, M. 2017. A big bag of Halloween terms [online: here], retrieved on 29/10/2018.
  • 2018. The history behind 8 Halloween words [online: here], retrieved on 23/10/2018.
  • British and American Halloween words [online: here], retrieved on 29/10/2018.


Written by Mairead Finlay – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She has studied Translation at the University of Geneva and holds a BA in Politics and French from the University of Bristol.







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