We carved jack-o'-lanterns last night, and I was wondering where that name came from. That got me thinking about other names for Halloween things, so here's a frightfully incomplete list:
- Jack-o'-lantern: Originally, a Jack-with-a-lantern was a man with a lantern or a night watchman. It's also the name for a phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over swampy ground at night, possibly caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by rotting organic matter, which is also known as an ignis fatuus, a friar's lantern or a will-o'-the-wisp. Ignis fatuus is Latin for foolish fire, and according to the OED, the marsh lights seem "to have been formerly a common phenomenon; but is now exceedingly rare. When approached, the ignis fatuus appeared to recede, and finally to vanish, sometimes reappearing in another direction. This led to the notion that it was the work of a mischievous sprite, intentionally leading benighted travelers astray. Hence the term is commonly used allusively or figuratively for any delusive guiding principle, hope, aim, etc."
- Goblin: An ugly demon or sprite that is often mischievous or malicious. From the Middle English gobelin, from Anglo-French, from Medieval Latin gobelinus, ultimately from Greek kobalos for rogue (Merriam-Webster online).
- Ghoul: An evil spirit or demon in Muslim folklore believed to plunder graves and feed on corpses (American Heritage Dictionary). From the Arabic ghul, from a verbal root meaning "to seize" (OED).
- Ghost: We all know what this one means, but it comes from the Middle English gost, gast, from Old English gāst; akin to Old High German geist for spirit (M-W online).
- Witch: Another familiar word. It comes the Middle English wicche, from Old English wicca, masculine, wizard & wicce, feminine, witch; akin to Middle High German wicken to bewitch, Old English wigle divination, and perhaps to Old High German wīh holy (M-W online).
- Halloween: From All Hallow Even, meaning All Saints' Eve. According to the OED: "In the Old Celtic calendar the year began on 1st November, so that the last evening of October was ‘old-year's night', the night of all the witches, which the Church transformed into the Eve of All Saints."
- Candy: From Middle English candi, crystallized cane sugar, short for sugre-candi, translation of Old French sucre candi and Old Italian zucchero candi, both from Arabic sukkar qandi : sukkar, sugar + qandi candied (from qand, cane sugar) (American Heritage).
I'm working tonight, so eat some sukkar qandi for me!