The Origin of Halloween Words

Welcome to Amazing Words Wednesday, the day we enter the labyrinth of language and see what we can discover.

Last year, at this time, I took a look at a variety of names used for haunted houses around the country. This year, let’s talk about some of the vocabulary associated with Halloween. I wasn’t sure how we got a few of these words, so I researched a little etymology to share with you today.

Halloween. You may know this as a shortening of “All Hallows’ Evening” (“e’en” means “evening”). But what is hallow? What is All Hallows’ Evening? And who gave us this word?

If you’ve ever heard, or memorized, the “Lord’s Prayer” from the King James Version of the Bible, you’ve heard the word “hallowed”: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Hallowed derives from Old English and means holy. But the word hallow can also be a noun meaning a holy person or saint.

All Hallows’ Day (now known as All Saints’ Day) was established by the Catholic Church to honor all Christian martyrs with a comprehensive feast and holy day. The date of November 1 was fixed onto the church calendar by Pope Gregory IV in the 9th century. So the day before, October 31, was All Hallows’ Eve.

Our familiar Halloween first appears in the mid-18th century, as a shortening of All Hallows’ Evening in Scotland. October 31 was already the last day on the Celtic calendar and designated as a night for witches, so the development of Halloween as a spooky holiday preceding a day to honor saints made complete sense in a region with Celtic origins and the Christian religion.

By Nicubunu (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Jack o’lantern. I’ve always wondered: Who’s Jack and what does he have to do with pumpkins?

As a matter of fact, jack o’lantern was originally a name for “atmospheric ghost lights” seen by people at night above swamps and marshes. There were old tales to explain the phenomenon of a light shining above the water and retreating upon a person’s approach.

One is the Irish story of a man known as “Drunk Jack” or “Stingy Jack.” Jack makes a deal with the Devil, selling his soul for payment of his tab at the pub. (That’s one big bar tab.) When the Devil comes to collect, Jack tricks the Devil from getting his soul, rebuffing him with a cross.

But that doesn’t mean Jack gets into Heaven; he’s way too wayward for that. When Jack dies and travels to Hell, the Devil won’t let him in there either. In fact, he’s still angry about Jack’s trickery and condemns Jack to wander the earth forever, giving him a burning coal from Hell’s fire to light his way. Jack places the light in a carved turnip (okay, let’s say pumpkin) to serve as a lantern. Thus, Jack of the Lantern: Jack o’lantern.

By the way, science has a better explanation for those ghost lights that involves “the oxidation of phosphine (PH3), diphosphane (P2H4), and methane (CH4).” As for the rest of that explanation, my eyes glazed over while reading it. I like the Drunk Jack version better.

Trick-or-treat. Trick-or-treating evolved from a European practice in the 14th century, which has its origins even earlier in pagan practices dating to the 10th century. In preparation for All Saints Day, Christians went door-to-door soliciting gifts of food in exchange for prayers for the dead.

Fast forward to 1930s America. Children are now the collectors of food–in the form of candy–and some take their solicitation of favors very seriously. “Trick or treat” becomes a phrase used by candy collectors as a Mafia-like shakedown with kids demanding candy (the treat) or else they’ll retaliate with pranks (the trick). Indeed, The Reno Evening Gazette mentions Nevada children employing this method in 1938:

“Trick or treat was the slogan employed by Halloween pranksters who successfully extracted candy fruit from Reno residents. In return the youngsters offered protection against window soaping and other forms of annoyance.”

Thankfully, I don’t know of any children who now soap windows or egg houses or whatever if they don’t get candy. There’s usually plenty of candy to be had, so the tricks simply aren’t necessary. In answer to “trick or treat?” we adults happily throw sweet treats at costumed kids. And then we parents eat our share when our children aren’t looking or before they can count just how many packages of M&Ms they had.

Do you celebrate Halloween? What plans do you have for this holiday? Did you know the origins of these Halloween words?

Sources: Catholic Encyclopedia; Online Etymology Dictionary; Wikipedia; The Phrase Finder; Mental Floss – 7 Burning Halloween Questions: Answered!

Naming a Haunted House

Welcome to Spooky Words Wednesday! Okay, it’s really Amaze-ing Words Wednesday, but since it’s HALLOWEEN, it seemed like a special version was warranted.

I’m personally not a big fan of the gore-and-gross and scare-your-pants-off aspects of Halloween, but plenty of people enjoy the fright and the creepiness of this season. Tonight there will be lots of people who visit haunted houses concocted from props, fake blood and guts, and dramatic flair. You may even be hosting one of those!

From the haunted house for kids
we created in our garage one year

So what should a haunted house be named? Just “Haunted House”? Indeed the makers of these monster-and-mayhem mazes get creative when naming them too. If you need an extra-special name for your own haunted house, here is some inspiration. (Be prepared if you decide to click a link; most of the websites have sound effects.)

Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Conley, Georgia.

Basement of the Dead, Chicago, Illinois.

Butcher’s Hollow, Farmington, Missouri.

Cataclysmic Castle of Fear, Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Corner of Chaos, East Windsor, New Jersey.

Delirium, Weston, West Virginia.

Disturbia, Huntsville, Alabama.

Field of Screams, Mountville, Pennsylvania.

Fright Farm, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.

Frightmare, Westminster, Colorado.

Frightmore, Morrow, Georgia.

Headless Horseman Haunted House, Ulster Park, New York.

House of Blackbeard, Concord, California.

House of Torment, Austin, Texas.

Indy Screampark, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Insanitarium, Pinson, Alabama.

Nightmare on 19th Street, Lubbock, Texas or Nightmare on 17th Street, Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Panic Attack, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Scream Acres, Napoleon, Ohio.

Terrortown, Toledo, Ohio.

The Asylum, Denver, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Crypt, Phoenix, Arizona.

The Fear Factory, Mount Clemens, MichiganFindley, OhioJacksonville, Arkansas; and Aberdeen, North Carolina.

The Ghoullog, North Conway, New Hampshire.

The Mayhem Mansion, Morning View, Kentucky.

The Mortuary, New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Realm of Darkness, Pontiac, Michigan.

Trail of Fear, Lawton, Oklahoma.

Trapped in Purgatory, Staten Island, New York.

As for what I would name a haunted house, here are my ideas:

From Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

Scooby Doo’s Mystery Manor. Yep, that’s about the level of fright I want–enough to make Scooby jump into Shaggy’s arms and says, “Rud-roh.”

Party with the Paranormal. Bring on the vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, etc., and let’s see how they amuse themselves on Halloween night.

The Junior High Dance. Just the thought of time-warping back there should be enough to make your nerves jump and your stomach shimmy.

Shock Block. Get a few houses on your block in on the deal, and this is a perfect name for the haunted house(s).

Roach Ranch. Actually, I would never name anything this, but if you want this particular gal to shudder from her scalp to her soles, the word “roach” anywhere in the title will do it.

The Graveyard. Seriously, why didn’t I find this one in my research? It’s simple, but effective.

What are some clever or creative names for haunted houses in your area? Have you ever hosted or worked with a haunted house? What suggestions for names do you have?