We all know what a haunting is broadly speaking. But many of you have asked us questions like Define Haunt and Haunted Meaning. This has been a general theme, even when the basics are understood. So, we decided to explain these a little more and answer: What is a haunting? as clearly as we can. We will also look at the history of the words “haunt” and “haunting” to show you just how varied and interesting these words are and how many times they have featured in old English texts.
What is a Haunting?
There are two definitions of haunting. It can be used as an adjective to describe something that sticks, something that is not easily forgotten and something that lingers, often in the subconscious. So, for instance you might describe your memories of a troubling event as “haunting”. The term can also be used to describe a piece of music that is dark and foreboding, music that has a similar effect on the consciousness.
The main definition of haunting is of a ghost or spirit that makes frequent visitations upon a being or a place. The easiest way to think of a haunting is like a stalking, only with ghosts. The word haunting can also be used in several other ways, but generally when someone refers to a haunting they are referring to an experience whereby someone or something was frequented by ghosts or something believed to be ghosts.
Here on Enfield Haunting we have used it a lot to refer to a particular haunting that took place in Enfield. The term is also used similar for events that took place in Amityville and in Connecticut, typically as a “haunting in” these places and not a “haunting of” them, as it would take a very determined spirit to cover an entire town or city in that way.
If you haunt someone then you are the one who is stalking them as a ghost or a spirit. Obviously, you’re not a ghost or a spirit (at least we hope not) and when someone haunts someone else it is typically used to mean that they are haunting their memories or their consciousness, most likely because that person can’t get them out of their mind.
In this sense it can be used to describe someone who has passed away, someone who is missing or even just someone who ended a relationship and is lingering in a person’s memory. They “haunt” them because they linger not as a real person but as a presence, affecting their life, their actions and their thoughts.
Etymology of Haunting
So, what is the history of the word “haunting” or “haunt”? Well, this is a word that is a little hard to pin down. The best guess is that it comes from the Middle English word for “Haunten”. Other words connected to the history of the word haunting include the French word for hater and the Old norse word Heimta, which means “to frequent” and to “lead home”. The origins for this word date as far back as the early 1200s.
One of the first times the words “haunt” or “haunting” were used in literature was back in the early 14th century when it was used to refer to a spirit. It was also used in several Shakespearean texts, the first of which came in 1590 in “ A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. At this time it was also common for the word “hauntingly” to be used in place of “frequently”, which is no longer the case.
Basically, the history of this word is “to frequent your home”. As if to emphasize these origins, synonyms of the word haunting include obsess, beset, plague and frequent.
The First Ever Haunting
So, when did the first ever haunting take place? It’s hard to say for sure, but it had become a common thread by the 18th century and, as mentioned above, it was also a thing during the 16th century. We know that it became much more commonplace in the 20th century, with commercial haunted houses first cropping up in the first decade of this century and with many horror stories and films covering it at the same time.
“Ghost stories” had been a thing for at least a hundred years before that, but while spirits have been included in many stories and plays prior to the 17th century, they often appeared as spirits of the forest or even as spirits who advised or haunted individuals, such as in Faust. The theme of the “haunted house” is far from new though. It appeared in stories that date back around 2,000 years, with the first official recording being by Pliny the Younger, who described a haunted villa in the Greek city of Athens.
Haunted house stories also feature in Arabian Nights, Islamic tales that date back many hundreds of years and were not adapted into English until the early 18th century.
Haunted houses and hauntings in general are much more popular now because of stories like Amityville and because of the work of modern horror writers like Stephen King and Henry James, as well as early trend setters like the great Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, authors who basically created the gothic and horror genres and paved the war for many modern writers, storytellers and even hoaxers to make hauntings as big as they are.
How to Say “Ghost” in other Languages
Okay, so now we have gotten the basics out of the way, covering the definition of haunting and answering “What is a haunting”, let’s expand on this topic a little. How do you say “ghost” in other languages? In other words, what do you yell if you’re aboard and you see a specter that you want to draw other peoples’ attention to?
Many languages actually use a word similar to “phantom” to say “ghost”. In Portuguese it is “fantasma”, in Romanian it is “fantoma”, in Catalan it is “fantasma” and in Albanian it is “fantazeme”. These Latin languages obviously have a lot in common, and the French, Italian and Spanish also have very similar words for “ghost”.
In Norwegian, Latvian and Danish the word is not unlike “spook”, which itself has Dutch origin. The Dutch word for “ghost”, by the way, is “Geest”, while the German is “Geist”. These words are where we get the English word “Poltergeist” from.