How the Word "Ghost" Got Its Spelling

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our review of Spell It Out by David Crystal

David Crystal is a prolific scholar of linguistics who specializes in language pathology, phonetics, and linguistic disability.

What I admire most about Crystal's scholarship in Spell It Out is its humanity. He never loses sight of language as a form of human expression—whether through orthography or pronunciation.

Consider for example, the history of the word, "ghost":

"Why is there an h here? And in ghastly, aghast and the whole family of related words –– ghostly, ghostliness, ghastliness, ghostbusters and so on? It wasn't there when the word first came into English. In Anglo-Saxon England we find it used in the form gast, with a long 'ah' vowel...But there was no h in the Anglo-Saxon spelling: the Holy Ghost was a Hali Gast. Nor was there an h in the word in Chaucer's time…Then along came Caxton [William Caxton, the first printer and publisher of books in England], who sets up his printing-shop. But who was to carry out the painstaking task of typesetting the new books, letter by letter? There was nobody capable of doing it in England. Caxton had learned his trade on the European mainland…so he looked to the Continent for help. We know the name of one of his assistants, Wynkyn de Worde. He and the other compositors…all spoke Flemish."

Crystal points out that the Flemish-speaking typesetters were on their own: "There were no dictionaries or house style guides to help them choose which spellings to use. In Bruges they would all have been used to reading manuscripts in Flemish spelling. So, if a word reminded them of its Flemish counterpart, why not spell it the Flemish way?"

William CaxtonAnd so Caxton refers to the "Holy Ghoost," and "ghost" appears in his printing of Chaucer's "House of Fame." This spelling looked "right" to the Flemish printers and, Crystal reports, soon looked "right" to everyone else: "…by the end of the 16th century everyone was using the new form. Hamlet's dead father is a ghost, not a gost. And slowly the h spread to related words. Aghast appears first in the 15th century, and eventually replaces agast. Ghastly replaces gastly."

Even today contemporary Wynkyn de Wordes are inventing new spellings for old words - in books or perhaps while texting or Tweeting - that will someday catch on as "ghost" did and exert their own "ghostly" influence on other words as well.


By Jo Perry, first published on BookBrowse as the "beyond the book" article relating to Spell It Out by David Crystal

Picture of Caxton from Unrealcityaudio

Your Brain on Literature: The benefits of reading

Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone by Alice McDermott, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.

[More]

What is Dirty Realism

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our 2013 review of Goat Mountain by David Vann:

David Vann fits into an American literary tradition that has been around since the 1960s, but was only given a name in 1983. Bill Buford, former editor of Granta literary magazine, coined the term "dirty realism" to characterize two trends in American fiction: a tendency toward simplified language, largely free from adverbs or flowery language (as is true of Vann's matter-of-fact prose in Goat Mountain), and frank consideration of the awfulness of ordinary, lower- or middle-class lives.

[More]

Relive World War I Day by Day

Home FrontWould you like to know more about World War I but are nervous about getting bogged down in weighty nonfiction or possibly flawed fiction reads?

Do you enjoy listening to a good yarn that wraps historical fact around a great narrative story?

If you do, then I urge to tune into BBC Radio 4's Home Front.

[More]

8 Movies Based on Books Worth Watching from Sept - Dec 2014 (and 9 I'm Happy to Miss)

It takes a lot to get me into a movie theater. The expense combined with the smell and relentless chomping of popcorn are big turnoffs, but maybe two or three times a year I'll make a trip to the big screen. This Fall there are eight films that I'm keeping an eye on - a couple that I'll definitely leave the house for, the remainder I'll wait for on Netflix, or maybe spring for on pay-per-view - or, better still, put myself on the waitlist at our local library which carries a veritable cornucopia of film delights.

If you don't share my tastes or you just love, love, love the movies and like to know about everything new - keep reading to the end for an additional 9 movies based on books which hold less appeal for me but maybe just up your alley!

The page may take longer than usual to load due to multiple videos.

[More]

Reading Wodehouse in Mumbai

Chhatrapati Shivaji TerminusGrowing up in an extremely cramped one-bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a multi-rise building in Mumbai, I was looking for one thing -- escape. And while India had been independent for just around 25-odd years at that time, the vestiges of colonialism remained. Try as we might, my friends and I could never bring ourselves to call Mumbai's fantastic train station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It would always be Victoria Terminus to us -- in fact, even the name Mumbai took a while to sink in. Growing up, it had always been Bombay. 

These colonial aftereffects showed themselves most readily in the English fiction my friends and I read. We grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton books in elementary school. The images of endless feasts with scones and crumpets and clotted cream were enough to get us through the dreary Mumbai monsoons. I was introduced to the world of P. G. Wodehouse when I was in eighth grade, and these books completely took over my every waking moment. I devoured every Wodehouse book I could get my hands on, including many from the Bertie and Jeeves series. Most of Wodehouse's work is set around or before World War I, and portrays a deeply class-based British society. In Jeeves and Wooster's world, the worst that can happen is Wooster getting himself into a comedy of errors with a person of the opposite sex. There is no war. No unhappiness permeates this idyllic landscape. 

[More]

More Entries

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •