Word of the Day

Thursday, October 31, 2019

ghost word

[ gohst wurd ]

noun

a word that has come into existence by error rather than by normal linguistic transmission, as through the mistaken reading of a manuscript, a scribal error, or a misprint.

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What is the origin of ghost word?

Ghost word is a term coined by the great English philologist and lexicographer Walter Skeat in an address he delivered as president of the Philological Society in 1886. One amusing example that Skeat mentioned in his address comes from one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels, The Monastery (1820), “… dost thou so soon morse thoughts of slaughter?” Morse is only a misprint of nurse, but two correspondents proposed their own etymologies for morse. One proposed that it meant “to prime (as with a musket),” from Old French amorce “powder for the touchhole” (a touchhole is the vent in the breech of an early firearm through which the charge was ignited). The other correspondent proposed that morse meant “to bite” (from Latin morsus, past participle of mordere), therefore “to indulge in biting, stinging, or gnawing thoughts of slaughter.” The matter was finally settled when Scott’s original manuscript was consulted, and it was found that he had plainly written nurse.

how is ghost word used?

Your true ghost word is a very rare beast indeed, a wild impossible chimera that never before entered into the heart of man to conceive.

Philip Howard, A Word in Your Ear, 1983

Spookily enough, phantomnation itself is a “ghost word” originating in a 1725 translation of Homer’s Odyssey by Alexander Pope.

Paul Anthony Jones, Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities, 2016
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

ghoulish

[ goo-lish ]

adjective

strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous: a ghoulish and questionable sense of humor.

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What is the origin of ghoulish?

Ghoulish literally means “of, relating to, or like a ghoul.” If you know your folklore (and word origins), you won’t be surprised to learn why ghoulish evolved to mean “strangely diabolical or cruel; monstrous.” Recorded in the late 1700s, English ghoul is borrowed from the Arabic ghūl (based on a verb meaning “to seize”), a desert-dwelling demon in Arabic legend that robbed graves and preyed on human corpses. A ghūl was also believed to be able to change its shape—except for its telltale feet, which always took the form of donkey’s hooves. A “monstrous” creature, indeed. Ghoulish entered English in the 1800s.

how is ghoulish used?

… her dark humor and ghoulish sensibility are not for everyone.

Heller McAlpin, "'Rest And Relaxation' Is As Sharp As Its Heroine Is Bleary," NPR, July 10, 2018

… much of the story’s ghoulish humor derives from his habit of visualizing and communicating with murder victims, their ghosts intervening to help him solve each crime in trial-and-error fashion.

Justin Chang, "Cannes Film Review: 'Blind Detective'," Variety, May 20, 2013
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

requiescat

[ rek-wee-es-kaht, -kat ]

noun

a wish or prayer for the repose of the dead.

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What is the origin of requiescat?

Requiescat, as any high school Latin student can tell you, is the third person singular present subjunctive active of the Latin verb requiēscere “to rest, be at rest, rest in death” and means “May he/she/it rest.” If the kid wants to show off, they may volunteer that requiescat is an optative subjunctive, that is, a subjunctive that expresses a wish, as opposed to a hortatory subjunctive, a subjunctive that exhorts, as in requiēscāmus “Let’s take a rest,” or a jussive subjunctive, which expresses a command, as in requiescant “Let them rest!” (Requiēscant can also be an optative subjunctive, “May they rest.”) Requiescat usually appears in the phrase Requiescat In Pace (abbreviated R.I.P.) “May he/she/it rest in peace,” seen on tombstones. Requiescat entered English in the second half of the 1700s.

how is requiescat used?

In delivering its eulogy, perhaps I can beg a requiescat from its enemies as well.

Francesco De Sanctis, "The Ideal," From Kant to Croce: Modern Philosophy in Italy, 1800–1950, translated by Brian Copenhaver and Rebecca Copenhaver, 2012

That emotion. I bury it here by the sea … And a heart’s requiescat I write on that grave.

Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Lucile, 1860

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