Six Spooky Words That’ll Send Shivers Down Your Spine
It’s officially spooky season. Read on for six word origins that are sure to keep you up at night.
That spine-tingling sensation… Fear. Whether it’s from watching a spooky movie, or a flickering shadow in the corner of a room, we all know how it feels.
Wait, what was that?
Ah, it’s just a jack o’lantern! It’s that time of year again. The leaves are falling and autumn is in the air. Time for an absolute treat.
Dating back to an ancient Celtic festival, Halloween was originally celebrated by lighting bonfires and wearing costumes to ward off evil spirits—to mark the end of the summer harvest. Today, it’s filled with sweets and pumpkins.
In honour of this seasonal holiday, we’ve compiled a list of our six favourite spooky words and their origins. Get ready for a frightening read!
Originating from Arabic legend, ‘ghoul’ means “an evil spirit or phantom, especially one supposed to rob graves and feed on dead bodies”. It’s thought that the English translation comes from William Beckford’s Orientalist novel ‘Vathek’, a gothic novel detailing Middle Eastern mythology.
Ghouls were known as evil spirits of the desert, able to assume the shape of any animal. To sustain themselves, ghouls rob graves, and eat the flesh of the dead. Spooky, right?
Though there’s no evidence that ghouls actually exist, be careful when crossing the deserts of North Africa, the Middle East, or Central Asia… just in case.
From Count Dracula to Edward Cullen, we all fear the dreaded vampire—creatures that have captured our imagination for generations. Pale skin, fangs, and capes are all stereotypical vampiric traits, but it might surprise you to learn that vampires weren’t always imagined this way.
Prior to the 18th century, vampires were known across the world as bloated, ruddy, and shrouded in a cape. These creatures were known by many names across Europe, including ‘shtriga’, ‘vrykolakas’, and ‘strigoi’.
The actual term ‘vampire’ was popularised in Western Europe following reports of multiple attacks in the Balkans and Eastern Europe by the undead.
With a little help from Bram Stoker, vampires are one of the most popular creatures in modern culture, with infamous characters like Lestat de Lioncourt, Carmilla and even Count Von Count capturing our hearts and minds.
‘Scare’ derives from the Middle English word ‘sker’, and ‘skirra’ in Old Norse, both meaning “terror” or “fright”.
Weirdly, many of us actually enjoy being scared. In fact, 71 per cent of Americans under the age of 35 say they enjoy scary movies. Before the age of film, though, folklore was passed down through generational storytelling—with tales of evil creatures and spirits present in every world culture.
In fact, most modern religions include a good vs evil narrative. Christianity depicts Satan, whispering spirits known as Shaitans are a Muslim supersititiom, while Buddhism features celestial king Mara.
It’s safe to say that humans are used to being scared. Speaking of witch…
When we think of a witch, we think of cauldrons, black cats, and flying broomsticks. But did you know the term has a dark and convoluted history?
Originating from the Old English noun ‘wiċċe’, and with origins in Proto-Germanic and Pro-Indo-European languages, witches are prevalent in most cultures.
Feared throughout history, witches were thought to practice harmful acts of sorcery on others. So much so that there’ve been multiple witch hunts throughout history, with most taking place between 1450 and 1750, resulting in an estimated 50,0000 executions.
Where did the popular image of the stereotypical witch come from?
The answer is everyday life in the Middle Ages—as cauldrons were a home cooking utensil and broomsticks were commonly used to “clear away negative energy before a ritual”. Even the pointy hat was a popular accessory in 15th-century British fashion.
Not so spooky now.
Conjuring images of poltergeists and spirits who just can’t seem to move on, the word ‘haunt’ originates from the 13th century, referring to “a place frequently visited”. You might’ve heard Brits banging on about ‘returning to their old haunts’ usually when referring to their local town, or much closer to home, the pub.
Good ol’ Shakespeare himself adapted the meaning, using ‘haunt’ to refer to a ghostly apparition in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Now, we’re subjected to haunted house tours, haunted movies, and even television programmes such as ‘Most Haunted’, ‘Ghost Hunt’ and ‘Paranormal Lockdown’. Spooky business.
Last but by no means least, ‘crypt’ derives from the Greek word kryptós, meaning ‘hidden’ and the Latin word ‘crypta’ meaning ‘vault’.
Crypts are often stone chambers beneath the floor of a building containing coffins or religious relics. So why are crypts so scary?
Maybe it’s the fact that they house the dead, or the fact that they’re underground and pitch black. One of the most famous crypts is the catacombs beneath Paris—the final resting place for over six million bodies.
Likewise, the Catacombs of the Capuchins, under the Sicilian Capuchin monastery, is particularly frightening. The bodies of the dead are dressed in their best clothing and placed on display for onlookers. Many corpses are even embalmed when in the later stages of decomposition.
It’s almost like they’re still alive…
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