The Grim Reader: Wicked Words of Grave Importance for Halloween

Haunted by the apparition of overused terms like spooky and creepy? Fear not! Learn lesser-known words like eldritch and hallow, and even if you don't have the best costume, you'll have the best vocabulary.

Learn about the deep, dark past of these words in the full article:
A Big Bag of Halloween Terms

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definitions & notes only words
  1. apparition
    a ghostly appearing figure
    By the time Annabeth and Hazel caught up to her, the ghostly apparition was only a few yards away.
    This word means “something that appears,” and usually that something is a ghost or other type of supernatural beastie. Apparition is also used for other types of appearances, such as the apparition of a comet. Shakespeare used the sense that’s appropriate on Halloween in his classic play Julius Caesar: “I thinke it is the weakenesse of mine eyes That shapes this monstrous Apparition.” In other words, “Man, I must be seeing things.”
  2. dread
    fearful expectation or anticipation
    A slow dread sinks into my bones with every step up the stairs.
    Dread is a feeling of intense fear, usually about something in the future. Some people dread wearing a costume for Halloween, and most people dread public speaking and bear attacks.
  3. eerie
    suggestive of the supernatural; mysterious
    It’s hard to tell, but the eerie textures, including the sounds of muffled footprints, suggest a grim walk through a moonlit graveyard.
    Halloween is the most eerie holiday: that is, it’s the holiday that involves creepy, spooky, supernatural elements. Anything that would scare you in a horror movie is probably eerie.
  4. eldritch
    suggesting the operation of supernatural influences
    There are eldritch screams, agonised physical contortions, highly formal enunciations of speeches and stage directions alike.
    Found in print since the 1500s, eldritch has been describing the sorts of goblins and ghosts that are so prominent on Halloween and in horror movies. This is a perfect word to use when you’ve been using creepy and spooky too much. Never be scared of broadening your vocabulary.
  5. ghoul
    an evil spirit or ghost
    When my daughters were just little ghouls, Halloween sprawled over the whole month of October like an unruly pumpkin patch.
    Derived from Arabic, this word refers to an evil spirit of some sort. The original ghouls were believed to be mysterious grave robbers. The term is found in English since the late 1700s, and it’s broadened quite a bit, referring to not only nasty ghosts but people behaving in a malicious manner. Any person who preys on the weak, acts in a morbid way, or just gives you a Frankenstein-sized case of the creeps can be described as a ghoul. Don’t be a ghoul, people.
  6. hallow
    render holy by means of religious rites
    What remains of their hallowed ruins should be guarded with jealous care, and saved from any further uprooting or profanation.
    As a verb, to hallow is to bless or consecrate something: holy water has been hallowed by a priest. Hallow is also a word for a saint, and the form hallowed refers to holy, sacred things. Hallowed ground is sacred ground, either in a traditional religious sense or a more figurative sense. For a baseball fan, old parks such as Fenway in Boston and Wrigley in Chicago are hallowed ground, though they’re not quite old enough to appear in the bible.
  7. Halloween
    the evening before All Saints' Day
    Halloween is spreading around the globe like a zombie outbreak.
    Evolving from All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween has been found in English since the 1500s. So if Halloween is the day before All Hallows, what's All Hallows? It’s another way of saying All Saints, as in All Saints Day, a Christian holiday. But the traditions of Halloween are older than the word, arising from the Celtic festival of Samhain. The idea was that as summer turned to fall, the barrier between this world and the realm of ghosts got thin, thus the spookiness of the holiday.
  8. haunt
    follow stealthily or pursue like a ghost
    If scares are your style, there’s an assortment of haunted attractions to get you screaming.
    This word has had an interesting journey, much of which was not scary. Originally, to haunt meant to do things regularly. This eventually started covering some regular visitors that are unwelcome: ghosts. People are also haunted by ideas, regrets and dreams, which, like ghosts, can’t be seen. Back in 1600, Shakespeare used the term in the eerie sense in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “O monstrous! O strange! We are haunted. Pray masters: fly masters: helpe.” In other words, “Ghosts! Run!"
  9. horror
    intense and profound fear
    Great horror films challenge social norms, critiquing modern life by turning everyday experiences into waking nightmares.
    We all have little fears: this is a big fear. If you feel a sense of horror, you’re paralyzed by intense fear, which can also be called terror. You might also be screaming your head off. This fear-focused meaning is why horror is the genre of movie that scares you senseless, often with a monster, shark, or maniac.
  10. phantasm
    something existing in perception only
    The equine phantasm holds a sword in one hand while he dangles what looks like a lobster over the face of the sleeping man.
  11. poltergeist
    a ghost that creates disorder and noise
    The kitchen cabinet underlighting won’t light, and something is devouring the back porch at night – might be raccoons, may be poltergeists.
  12. revenant
    a person who returns after a lengthy absence
    It was only his revenant who remained, the small vengeful ghost who throttled Shae and put a crossbow bolt through the great Lord Tywin’s bowels.
  13. specter
    a ghostly appearing figure
    The Bloody Baron was the Slytherin ghost, a gaunt and silent specter covered in silver bloodstains.
  14. supernatural
    not able to be explained by physical laws
    It was hard to believe the tourists couldn’t see the supernatural storm brewing, but they didn’t give any hint that anything was wrong.
    Many Halloween costumes and stories focus on the supernatural, which is kind of a strange word. Does it mean something is all-natural but also super-duper? Not exactly. Supernatural things aren’t just unnatural: they’re not real. Monsters such as werewolves and vampires are examples of the supernatural: so is the magic of witches and warlocks. Supernatural forces are magical, but also bunk. You don’t have to worry about ghosts or zombies, really.
  15. wraith
    a mental representation of some haunting experience
    Wherever you are in England there could be a local wraith, ghoul or phantom waiting in the shadows.
  16. zombie
    a dead body brought back to life by a supernatural force
    Those same fears and anxieties are reflected in the myths about vampires, zombies, and even werewolves.
Created on October 29, 2017 (updated October 28, 2019)

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