"a noisy spirit, a ghost which makes its presence known by noises," 1838, from German Poltergeist, literally "noisy ghost," from poltern "make noise, rattle" (from PIE root *bhel- (4) "to sound, ring, roar;" source of bellow, bell) + Geist "ghost" (see ghost (n.)). In the native idiom of Northern England, such phenomena likely would be credited to a boggart.
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"hollow metallic instrument which rings when struck," Old English belle, which has cognates in Middle Dutch belle, Middle Low German belle but is not found elsewhere in Germanic (except as a borrowing); apparently from PIE root *bhel- (4) "to sound, roar" (compare Old English bellan "to roar," and see bellow).
As a division of daily time aboard a ship, by 1804, from its being marked by bells struck every half hour. Statistical bell curve is by 1920, said to have been coined was coined 1870s in French. Of glasses in the shape of a bell from 1640s. Bell pepper is from 1707, so called for its shape. Bell, book, and candle is a reference to a form of excommunication (the bells were rung out of order and all together to signify the loss of grace and order in the soul of the excommunicated).
To ring a bell "awaken a memory" (1934) is perhaps a reference to Pavlovian experiments; it also was a signal to summon a servant (1782).
Old English gast "breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being," in Biblical use "soul, spirit, life," from Proto-West Germanic *gaistaz (source also of Old Saxon gest, Old Frisian jest, Middle Dutch gheest, Dutch geest, German Geist "spirit, ghost"). This is conjectured to be from a PIE root *gheis-, used in forming words involving the notions of excitement, amazement, or fear (source also of Sanskrit hedah "wrath;" Avestan zaesha- "horrible, frightful;" Gothic usgaisjan, Old English gæstan "to frighten").
Ghost is the English representative of the usual West Germanic word for "supernatural being." In Christian writing in Old English it is used to render Latin spiritus (see spirit (n.)), a sense preserved in Holy Ghost. Sense of "disembodied spirit of a dead person," especially imagined as wandering among the living or haunting them, is attested from late 14c. and returns the word toward its likely prehistoric sense.
Most Indo-European words for "soul, spirit" also double with reference to supernatural spirits. Many have a base sense of "appearance" (such as Greek phantasma; French spectre; Polish widmo, from Old Church Slavonic videti "to see;" Old English scin, Old High German giskin, originally "appearance, apparition," related to Old English scinan, Old High German skinan "to shine"). Other concepts are in French revenant, literally "returning" (from the other world), Old Norse aptr-ganga, literally "back-comer." Breton bugelnoz is literally "night-child." Latin manes probably is a euphemism.
The gh- spelling appeared early 15c. in Caxton, influenced by Flemish and Middle Dutch gheest, but was rare in English before mid-16c. Sense of "slight suggestion, mere shadow or semblance" (in ghost image, ghost of a chance, etc.) is first recorded 1610s; sense of "one who secretly does work for another" is from 1884. Ghost town is from 1908. Ghost story is by 1811. Ghost-word "apparent word or false form in a manuscript due to a blunder" is from 1886 (Skeat). Ghost in the machine was British philosopher Gilbert Ryle's term (1949) for "the mind viewed as separate from the body." The American Indian ghost dance is from 1890. To give up the ghost "die" was in Old English.
updated on August 18, 2020