This week I’m taking a brief look at a word the Germans gave us – poltergeist (pronunciation here). It’s compounded from two sources – poltern, the German verb to knock and geist which means spirit.
Thanks to horror movies galore you’re probably familiar with poltergeists moving objects, odd odours, and strange noises – quite literally things that go bump in the night, often targeting one particular living person or place. The idea is common across many cultures and are often explained by gusts of wind, earth tremors, and animal pests.
Reports of poltergeist activities date back to the 1500s but the word only entered English in 1838, probably aided by the upsurge in interest in all things occult thanks to the spiritualist movement. In German the term translates as a “rumble ghost”.
The word poltergeist appears regularly in the many writing of Martin Luther who famously started the Protestant Reformation of the Catholic church in Europe. He may even have coined the word.
Fans of the Harry Potter books will be confused to hear that according to the Online Etymology Dictionary a poltergeist would be a boggart in Northern English dialect. I’m fairly sure a prank-playing poltergeist like Peeves is pretty different to the shape-changing boggart featured in the stories. They might even find it faintly ridukulus (pun intended).
Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling.
Keep a close eye out for the poltergeists,