Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Word Wednesday: "Ghoul"

The word-of-the-day, ghoul, is relatively new to the English language. It first appears in literature in One Thousand and One Nights as a part of Scheherazade's tales. The word is derived from Arabic ghul, from ghala "to seize" and refers to a devilish undead shape-shifting jinn who lives in the desert. The Arabic ghul lures travelers into the desert and slays and eats them, often taking the form of its last victim.

Ghouls first appeared in Western literature in 1786 in William Beckford's novel Valthek. This Westernized version of the ghoul dwells in graveyards or other sites of death and feeds on the flesh of the recently deceased. They are similar to vampires in that sunlight and artificial light disturb them and can burn them to death.

The meaning of the word ghoul has been extended to refer to those whose vocations deal with death, such as undertakers of gravediggers. In the Victorian era, it was common to call someone of such a macabre profession a ghoul (as an insult). Since the modernization and commercialization of the death industry, the use of this name in reference to a mortician has died out (pun intended), and modern day ghouls stay relegated to works of fiction.

Perhaps the most famous ghoul is the star Algol in the constellation Perseus. It's name is derived from the Arabic ra's al-ghul or "the head of the ogre/demon" and it is colloquially known as the Demon Star. This modern monicker is not alone in its dark nature: in Hebrew, Algol is know as Rosh ha Satan or "Satan's Head," in Latin as Caput Larvae or "Spectre's Head," and in Chinese astronomy it is known as Tseih She or "piled-up corpses."


The Lonely Alchemist

No comments:

Post a Comment