Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Coffin Hop #4

As anyone who works with words in English understands, the language is insanely rich based on its multi-language heritage. (Thank you, William the Conqueror.) Here's a sampling of words associated with this season of horror and fear. I am surprised at the even split between Germanic and Latinate words.

Halloween (Germanic): An eighteenth-century shortening of the Scottish word Allhallow-even, meaning the Eve of All Saints, the last night in October. The verb hallow derives from the Old English word halgian, meaning to consecrate, ordain, or honor something as holy. Hallows derives from the Old English word haligra, denoting a saint or holy person.

Grendel, by J. R. Skelton (1908).
Horror (Latinate): From the Middle English horrour, which comes from the Old French horror (which in modern French is rendered horreur), which derives from the Latin horror, meaning dread, religious awe, or the action of bristling with fear, shuddering. The latter meaning to bristle, comes from horrēre.

Terror (Latinate): A late fourteenth century borrowing from Old French terreur, from the Latin words terrorem, meaning dread, and terrere, meaning frighten.

Monster (Latinate): In early fourteenth-century usage, monster referred to a malformed animal or human and derives from Old French monstre and mostre, meaning a monstrosity. The Old French words come from the Latin monstrum, which denotes a divine omen, portent, abnormal shape, monstrosity, or object of dread. The root for monstrum is monere, which means to warn. Abnormal animals were associated with evil omens. By the late fourteenth century, English speakers were applying monster to mythical animals. Calling inhumanly wicked people monsters dates from the 1550s.

Coffin (Latinate): Originally meant a chest or box in which to store valuables and derives from the Old French cofin and the Latin cophinus, meaning a coffer, basket, or hamper. The Latin word can be traced to the Greek kophinos, meaning a basket. The English association with burial and corpses dates to the 1520s.

Fiend (Germanic): Comes from the Old English feond, meaning enemy or foe, which derives from the Proto-Germanic *fijæjan, a word for enemy. Considering the spelling, feond was originally the opposite of freond, a word for friend. It took on its diabolical connotations when Old English speakers began using it for Satan, the enemy of all mankind. Foe captures the original meaning.

Haunt (Germanic): Derives from Old French hanter, meaning to frequent or be familiar with. Hanter likely comes Old Norse heimta, meaning to bring home, which derives from Proto-Germanic *haimat-janan. The reference to a spirit haunting a place may have been present in the Proto-Germanic usage, but Shakespeare popularized the meaning in his plays.

Fear (Germanic): Derives from Old English fær, meaning calamity or sudden danger, which comes from Proto-Germanic *feraz, meaning danger. The present meaning—an uneasiness attributed to potential danger—evolved in the late twelfth century. The Old English words for fear as we use it now are ege and fyrhto.

While you're contemplating etymologies, don't forget to enter my raffle for a chance to win the Coffin Hop anthology or my ghost story novelette Highway 24. Find more Hop destinations at the end of this post. Keep hoppin' and don't close the lid too tight. I've heard coffins can get a bit stuffy.

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Visit the other Coffin Hop bloggers below for more Halloween fun.


  1. I think I'll stick with my English unexplained. I really should have taken Latin (instead of Spanish). It looks like Latin isn't the root of everything though. I love it when people come to the NC mtns. and try to pronounce the names of towns and counties around here!

  2. Fascinating! I love etymological posts. English is such a rich and diverse language, we're lucky to be writing with it.

  3. You should publish a Hallowe'en dictionary :)