A ghost of a word

This week's Words of Others was from George R.R. Martin's The Hedge Knight. Today's post comes from the sequel to that story, The Sworn Sword, and is a good one to lead into Halloween weekend. Dunk is now in the service of a very minor lord and is visiting another castle at the lord's behest. The lady of Coldmoat castle is a 25-year-old with three dead husbands and is called the Red Widow. Dunk is discussing her with Coldmoat's priest, who says:

Coldmoat crawls with revenants, it must be said. The husbands die yet their kin remain, to drink my lady's wines and eat her sweetmeats, like a plague of pink locusts done up in silk and velvet.

Revenant has two meanings, according to the OED:

  • 1. One who returns from the dead; a ghost.
  • 2. One who returns to a place.

The ghostly variety of revenant is the older meaning, with a quotation from 1827 in the OED. The second meaning dates to at least 1886.

The word comes from the French, where it is the present participle of revenir, meaning to return. The American Heritage Dictionary points out that the word revenue has a similar origin, and gives further etymology in revenue's entry: "Middle English, from Old French, from feminine past participle of revenir, from Latin revenīre : re- + venīre, to come."