Ghostly Terminology!

Many people use the word ghost with other words that cannot necessarily be so easily interchanged. There are a number of different ghostly and paranormal terms that actually have subtle differences between them. To clarify, let’s examine some of the common, as well as some of the not so common terms used to describe ghosts, spirits, and other terms used to identify paranormal phenomena. Convenient dictionary links and audio pronunciations are provided for each ghostly and paranormal term discussed below for clarification.

Apparition is a term that is used to describe the appearance of a ghost or invisible being as well as the form of a ghostly presence. An apparition is the moment when a disembodied spirit manifests, and the apparition is then perceived by individuals where the manifestation takes place. Often times, the disembodied spirit will appear exactly as it did when it was once contained within a physical body; however, not all apparitions appear in full form. There are partial and full apparitions, both which do not necessarily appear to be as solid as a physical form, and more often appear more ethereal or as having an insubstantial form. In various paranormal reports, partial apparitions are far more common than full body apparitions are. In some cases, the apparition can indeed appear as substantial as a physical form, and then later disappear.

Basically, the word apparition is used to describe the moment that a ghost or spirit, which is typically invisible, suddenly appears and becomes visible to the human eye. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term apparition is dated to the 15th century, and is first noted in Middle English as apparicioun (“Apparition”). The word apparition is rooted in both the Anglo-French aparicion, as well as the Late Latin word, apparitio, which translates as “appear” (“Apparition”). The term apparition is also derived from the Latin word “apparere” (“Apparition”). In Italian the term apparition is apparizione, in German the term apparition is akin the word geist and is Erscheinung; in Spanish the word appears much like it does in More’s De quatuor novissimis, less the double “p” and with an accented “o,” as aparición.

The first use of the term apparition is documented in the English language circa 1525 to 1530, and appeared in Sir Thomas More’s De quatuor novissimis in direct reference to a ghost: “Theapparicion of a very ghost” (“Apparition” Def. 1a.). More used the latter term in reference to “the supernatural appearance of invisible beings” (“Apparition” Def. 1a.). In the Etymology Online Dictionary, the word apparition is associated with meaning ghost, and therefore is interchangeable with the word the term ghost (“Harper”). Later, in 1650, the term apparition appeared in the work of Thomas Fuller in A Pisgah-sight of Palestin, as a direct reference to the action of God, with a noted change in the spelling of the term: “The first apparition God made to Abraham” (“Apparition” Def. 1a.). In 1603, Shakespeare himself relied on the term apparition in one of his greatest plays, Julius Caesar, in the sense that the word related the sudden manifestation of an “immaterial appearance as of a real spiritual being; a specter, a phantom, or ghost: I thinke it is the weakenesse of mine eyes That shapes this monstrous Apparition” (“Apparition” Def. 9.). In 1685, in A brief historical relation of state affairs Narcissus Luttrell also used the term apparition to explain or note the sudden appearance of a ghost: “A common report . . . of some apparition that walks at Whitehall” (“Apparition” Def. 9.). Even later, in 1703, the word apparition appeared in a work written by Henry Maundrell entitled A journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem when Maundrell referenced the sudden appearance of Angelic beings (“Apparition” Def. 1a.). Thus, the term apparition comes to mean the appearance of a ghost or spirit, the sudden manifestation of an unexpected being, whether the being is of divine origin or a spirit form of a deceased individual, or quite simply, the appearance of an invisible being in visible and humanly perceptible form.

Orthographically, the word banshee has undergone considerable changes, but the meaning of Banshee has remained relatively the same. In 1769, the word banshee appeared in as “Benshi;” in 1810, the word is spelled as Ben-shie in Walter Scott’s The lady of the lake; and later appears in Mary E. Braddon’s Joshua Haggard’s daughter as banshee in 1876 (“Banshee”). The word banshee is actually a phonetic variant of the words bean sídhe and is derived from the Old Irish ben side, meaning a woman or female of fairy or Elfin origins (“Banshee”). A banshee is considered a preternatural creature, which in Irish and Scottish legends, was said to appear to people that were about to die, and the banshee’s wail, according to legend, is an omen of death (“Banshee”). For more information about the banshee, visit our article related to banshees.

In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word bogey is defined as being a name that refers to the devil or a devil, and the word had several different spellings: bogey, boguey, bogy, bogie, and the plural form of the word appears as boggies (“Bogey” Def. 1). It also refers to a goblin or a person that is feared (“Bogey” Def. 2). The word first appears in the English language circa 1836, and was used by Richard H. Barham in The Ingoldsby legends (“Bogey”). Thus, a bogey is defined as a spirit, one that is particularly worrisome, troublesome, evil, or foreboding; the latter word is sometimes associated with the term bugbear.

The word bogle is used in the same sense as the word bogeyman is used, and it is typically used to describe several different types of frightening beings including “a phantom, a goblin, a bogy,” or a specter. The term bogle can also be used to describe a being that is otherwise “indescribable,” and in some instances the word has been used to describe the appearance of a shadowy or black being: sometimes with human characteristics or features (“Bogle” Def. 1). Bogy is a synonym for the words specter/spectre or phantom, and etymologically, bogy is believed to be a variation of the word bogle (“bogey”). The etymology of the word bogle, is Scottish in origin, meaning “ghost,” which was first used in the latter sense circa 1505 (“Harper”). In the year 1646, the word bogle appears in R. Baillie’s Anabaptism and is used to describe “devils” which frighten men (“Bogle” Def. 1). The word bogle is sometimes spelled as boggle, and the word is defined as a “phantom causing fright” (“Bogle” Def 1.). Finally, a bogle is similar to a bogeyman, and in some legends it is alleged that the bogle frightens, harasses, and torments human beings.

The word bogeyman appears in the English language in 1890; while the term usually is used in reference to an imaginary being feared by children, it also refers to someone or something that is terrifying.

Boggard / Boggart / Buggard:
All of the latter words refer to a a specter, ghost, sprite, or spirit that allegedly haunts a specific location (“Boggard” Def. 1). The word appears in the English language as early as 1570 in Peter Levin’s Manipulus vocabulorum: A dictionarie of English and Latine words (“Boggard” Def. 1). Later in 1818, the word again appears in Edward Burt’s Letters from a gentleman in the north of Scotland; the latter text seemingly describes how haunted the different regions of England are: “All that quarter of England is infested with boggarts of all sorts” (“Boggard” Def. 1). A boggart is derived from English folklore; according to The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, the boggart behaves much like a poltergeist behaves (Guiley 50), and they are allegedly vicious and cruel in some instances.

A bugbear is word that is sometimes associated with “a hobgoblin,” one that supposedly fed on children that behaved badly (“Bugbear” Def.1). In this first sense, the term bugbear appeared in the work of James Bell in Walter Haddon against Osorius, as well as the 1592 work of Thomas Nashe entitled Pierce Penilesse his supplication to the diuell: “Meare bugge-beares to scare boyes” (“Bugbear” Def. 1). The term bugbear is now more commonly used to refer to “fear of a dreaded creature or being,” and is further used to referred to “needless fear of someone or something (“Bugbear” Def. 2), and was first used in a such a sense in 1580 by Sir Sidney Philip (“Bugbear” Def. 2).

The word chthonian appears in the English language in 1850 and is Greek in origin; it is often used to refer to spirits that were believed to be inhabitants of the underworld (“Chthonian”). The latter term appeared in Sir John Rhy’s Lectures on the origin and growth of religion as illustrated by Celtic heathendom in 1888, where it is used to describe the relationship of Pluto and Zeus, and how Pluto is an underworld god (“Chthonian”). Underworld spirits, otherwise known as shades or shadow beings are believed to be from the Chthonian realm.

According to Greek mythology, a demon is a preternatural creature that acts as an intermediate between the gods and humankind; the Greeks referred to the demon as the dæmon: a being that was believed to be a form of “inferior divinity,” or genius. Thus the term demon or dæmon has not always been associated with negativity or a malicious being. In the late 1380’s, the term dæmon was used to sometimes refer to some deceased individuals (“Harper”). In fact, in 1608, Henry More, in Apocalypsis apocalypseos; or the revelation of St. John unveiled explains in that, “Dæmons according to the Greek idiom, signify either Angels, or the Souls of men, any Spirits out of Terrestrial bodies, the Souls of Saints, and Spirits of Angels” (“Demon” Def 1). Jewish writers used the word to refer to idols or lords, and when the Greek term dæmon was later translated by Christian translators, the term came to mean “a heathen god,” as well as “an impure spirit” (Harper). In the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word demon is defined as meaning a devil or a fallen angel and is said to be derived, at least in part from the Latin word daemonium (“Kent”). Interestingly, the word demon also has roots in the word daio, which means apportation or “to divide” (“Kent”). Thus, demons are spiritual creatures that are of a divisive, chaotic nature, and are therefore frequently associated with negative paranormal phenomena. Today the term is chiefly used to describe an evil being, creature, fiend, or spirit.

An eidolon is an “unsubstantial image, spectre, or phantom;” the latter term appears in a variety of literary works, including Bayard Taylor’s Goethe’s Faust in 1875 (“Eidolon”). It is derived from the Latin Idolum and the Greek word for idol (“Eidolon”). Essentially, the term apparition and the word eidolon are interchangeable.

Essence is derived from the Latin essencia or essential, as well as the word assence and is seen it its French spelling as essence. The term essence refers to the immaterial or ethereal body of the spirit. The essence of a human being are therefore the vital characteristics and attributes that distinguish him or her from another, and are characteristics that allow for identification of the said individual as unique. It is believed that these same unique attributes continue to exist in the form of the spirit after death, and it is such characteristics that sometimes make the spirit identifiable to an individual perceiving a manifested spirit.

The word ghost is even older than the word apparition and has been dated back as far as the twelfth century (“ghost”). The etymology of the word ghost can be traced back to Middle English as gost, or gast, and in Old English as gast (“ghost”). A ghost is a spirit that has been parted from the physical body due to the death of the body that once was host to the spirit. The term ghost is defined as the soul of the deceased, and is considered a spirit that inhabits an invisible realm (“ghost”). As defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, ghost means “The spirit, or immaterial part of man, as distinct from the body or material part; the seat of feeling, thought, and moral action” (“Ghost” Def. 3a). Like the term apparition however, the word ghost has two meanings and the word ghost can refer to the appearance of an invisible spirit: one that looks like it did when it was in a physical body (“ghost”). Sometimes the word ghost is used as a broad term to describe paranormal activity occurring in a home or business; for example, someone might say, “I think my home is haunted by a ghost,” when there may actually be some other explanation for the phenomena in question.

While sometimes used interchangeably, a ghoul and a ghost are not the same thing. A ghoul is a creature that, according to Muslim legends, preys on dead bodies and purposefully robs graves (“Ghoul”). The etymology of the word ghoul is rooted in the Arab word ghul, which literally means “to sieze” (“Ghoul”). It is said that a ghoul particularly likes to be repulsive, ghastly, or repugnant.

Ignis Fatuus:
Ignis fatuus is also commonly referred to as a Will-o’-the-Wisp; the ignis fatuus is actually a phosphorescent light that appears in marsh lands, and is allegedly created from phosphuretted hydrogen when it spontaneously combusts (“Ignis Fatuus”). The words Ignis Fatuus orginate in modern Latin, and literally translates as “foolish fire” (“Ignus Fatuus”). According to the Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, ignis fatui have been believed to be the ghosts of restless spirits; and in some instances, it is believed when one sees ignis fatui, the event is an omen of death (Guiley 194). A variety of legends exist about ignis fatui and will vary from one culture to the next.

Manifestation is a word that is much like the word apparition, where it describes the action of a spirit. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word manifestation as “the demonstration, revelation, or display of the existence, presence, qualities, or nature of some person or thing” (“Manifestation” Def 1a). It is further referred to as an unusual experience or several experiences whereby the attendance of a spirit is believed to be made detectable (“Manifestation” Def 4). Manifestation is rooted in the post classical Latin manifestation, and signifies the moment when a spirit becomes detectable via human perceptions.

Phantasm is rooted in the Anglo Norman word fawntesme, the Middle French fantasme and phantasme, the Latin phantasma, and the Occitan and Catalan fantasma (“Phantasm”). The word has a number of different meanings associated with it, depending upon the context in which it is used. First, the archaic meaning of the word phantasm means a ghost or spirit or the sudden appearance of a disembodied spirit (“Phantasm” Def 2a.). In this sense, the word phantasm is akin to the word phantom, which also describes the appearance of a disembodied spirit. When used in the field of parapsychology, the term phantasm is defined as the vision of a living or deceased individual which is not physically present at the location where the being is perceived (“Phantasm” Def 2b). Sometimes the word phantasm is used interchangeably with phantasma.

A poltergeist is commonly understood as a noisy ghost and the word is rooted in the German language. A poltergeist is commonly associated with noises, banging, rapping, scratching, and other chaotic phenomena. For more information about poltergeist phenomena, read our article on poltergeists.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word presence as one that means something that exists but is invisible, particularly a disembodied spirit or being which is somehow perceived or felt by an individual (“Presence” Def. 6). A presence is something that is not necessarily seen visually, but can be felt; sometimes the feeling can be described as oppressive, heavy, unusual, eerie, creepy, or overly morose.

Revenant, which in its feminine form is revenante, is a word that is used to describe a ghost that has returned from the dead; the term is derived from the French word revenir, which means “to return” (“Revenant”). Thus, revenant is a term used to describe the appearance of the deceased.

A shade is another word for ghost, and it is sometimes used in certain myths to describe the presence of one’s soul in Hades or the underworld (“Shade” Def 6a). The word is derived from the Middle English schade, the Old English sceadu (“Shade”). A shade is a word that is interchangeable with the terms ghost, spirit, or apparition.

The soul is generally considered as an spirit distinct from the physical body; the spiritual part of a human being and the definition of the word soul clearly draws a distinction between the physical body and the ethereal being (“Soul” Def 2a). The soul is considered the immortal part of the human being, one that lives on after the physical body can no longer continue existing in the physical plane.

Spectre / Specter: 
: The words spectre and specter are one and the same, the first being a French spelling, which typically appears in British writing, and the second being the Americanized version of the word. A specter is simply a ghost or apparition of some kind (“Specter”). A specter is a disembodied preternatural being that can become audibly and/or visually detectable via human perceptions.

: A spirit is considered the soul or life force of a human being, and the word is rooted in words like the Old French esperit, the modern French esprit, and the Latin spritus, and is further akin the to the Latin word spirare, which translates into “to breathe” (“Spirit”). The spirit is often discussed and written about, as well as believed to be separate and distinct from the physical body.

The term spook is typically used in a colloquial sense to mean ghost or spirit (“Spook”). Spook is a shortened version of “spooky” and therefore refers to the appearance of something that is creepy, eerie, strange, unusual, or bizarre.

Supermundane is a term used to describe that which is not earthly; attributed to Thomas Aquinas, this word is derived from supermundanus, and is a combination of the words super and mundane (“Supermundane”). In this sense, the prefix super is used to denote literally means over or above, while the word mundane signifies what is of the earthly realm; thus the term comes to mean “above the earthly realm,” and cannot signify anything considered as originating from lower realms like shades. The realms considered below the earthly realm, and not necessarily below the earth itself in a physical sense, are referred to as inframundane. Thus, low level entities or spirits are considered something that comes from the realm of the inframundane.

Like the term supermundane, the prefix super in this word signifies, above or over. Meanwhile the term nature signifies the natural world; thus this term comes to denote that which is peculiar, strange, unusual, unexpected, and extraordinary (“Supernatural”). This term is one that is also attributed to Thomas Aquinas, and comes from supernaturalis; meanwhile, the word can also be traced to the Old French supernaturel, the soprannaturale, as well s the Porteguese sobrenatural (“Supernatural”).

The word vision has a number of different meanings, but when used in relation to ghosts and spirits, it can mean “supernaturally presented to the mind either in sleep or in an abnormal state,” or “A thing actually seen; an object of sight” (“Vision”).

the term visitant refers to the actual appearance of a ghost or spirit (“Visitant”Def b). A visitant is the spirit of the deceased which has returned after death and appeared before one or more people.

A wraith is defined as a ghost, that of a person that is still alive, in some instances, in other instances a wraith is associated with the ghost of a deceased being (“Wraith”). The etymology of the word wraith proves the word to be Scottish in origin as well as Gaelic (Harper). A wraith may be a projection of one’s consciousness, either purposefully or without intent to do so. In some Scottish legends, the word wraith is used to describe water spirits.


About Andrew

Co-founder & lead investigator of Paranormal Encounters. I've experienced the paranormal all my life, having encountered ghosts, angels and demons. I live in a haunted house and when not exploring and researching the unknown, I enjoy single malt Scotch whisky & potato chips (though not necessarily at the same time).