Halloween is upon us. If you have ever wondered about where the word Halloween comes from, here is a brief origin story. In short, it comes from the archaic English word for ‘sacred’ or ‘saint’; hallow, and the word for ‘the day before’; eve (as in Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve). The day it precedes is a Christian holy day called All Saint’s Day, or All Hallow’s Day, a day where the dead, including Christian saints, are remembered .
This religious dwelling on the souls of the dead is where Halloween’s celebration of all things dark and scary begins. It really got going in the late 18th century in the USA with the arrival of thousands of Irish immigrants, whose customs and traditions many modern Halloween practices are based on (a quick Google search will find you a detailed history).
The Old English root of ‘hallow’ is halig from which we also get its modern form - holy . You might be surprised to learn that holy is used to express surprise in sayings such as holy moly! , holy cow! , and holy mackerel! . These expressions are a kind of euphemism known as minced oaths . Minced oaths were used by people who wanted say profane or blasphemous things without getting into trouble. Other minced oaths include “for crying out loud!” and, the still frequently heard, “jeez”.
There are many other interesting etymological connections to Halloween (‘trick or treat’, for example) and to hallow (the word ‘health’ is another relative). What interesting words have caught your ear this Halloween season?