How the Word "Ghost" Got Its Spelling: Background information when reading Spell It Out

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Spell It Out

The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling

by David Crystal

Spell It Out
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2013, 336 pages
    Dec 2014, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
How the Word "Ghost" Got Its Spelling

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 ...

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