CULTURAL CORNER – Northwest Linguist Fall 2007

By Laura A. Wideburg

Halloween has come and gone by the time you read
this, but what a confusing name for a holiday. Actually,
the words holiday and Halloween are related! Halloween
comes from All Hallow’s Evening (the night before All
Saint’s Day, November 1st), and even when I was a child,
the holiday was spelled with an apostrophe, Hallowe’en,
to indicate the missing letters from evening. Hallow and
Holy are two different permutations of the same root
word. We see this in words like bury and burrow as well.
Some medieval English dialects pronounced the sound
“ee” (as in holy and bury), while other dialects pronounced
the sound “oh” (as in hallow and burrow). With
time, the words began to differentiate in meaning. Hallow
ceased to be used to mean “holy” and now only makes
an appearance in calques (a linguistic term meaning a
word that is frozen in an older usage), for instance in the
phrase from the Lord’s Prayer “hallowed be Thy name”
and the name for the holiday that is Halloween, while
holy became the word commonly used to refer to the
sacred. Hallow, meaning “saint,” is now a dead usage, and
has been replaced by the word saint(e) imported from
the Norman French. The word holiday is a contraction of
holy day, which in the Medieval world meant a day free
from work to celebrate its religious significance. Meanwhile,
bury and burrow both retained the meaning “dig
in the earth,” but the first word now relates to how
people dig in order to lay their loved ones to rest, while
the second now relates to animals digging in order to
make a home for themselves in the earth.


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