Level: Intermediate and Advanced (B1–C2)
Have you noticed that most people love to be just a bit scared when they know they are not really in danger? That’s why everyone loves Halloween – a holiday when we can enjoy all the “things that go bump in the night,” because we know that everything is really OK.
Centuries ago, however, our northern European ancestors had more to be afraid of, and this holiday marked the end of the growing season and harvest and the approach of winter. It was a time to consider life and death, and especially, to remember the dead.
(noun) A scary, transparent, ghostly figure.
2. All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween
(noun) A contraction (shortening) of “All Hallows’ Evening.” The holiday is observed in many countries on October 31. The -een suffix (word ending) = evening. “Halloween” is the evening before the Christian “All Hallows’ Day.” More commonly called “All Saints Day”, this is the day when we remember the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all of our dear departed. In modern English, “hallow” is a verb, meaning to honor as holy. In old English, it was also a noun. A “hallow” was a holy person.
3. Black cat
(noun) Black cats were believed to be witches’ familiars (powerful assistants). People also believed that black cats could bring bad luck. This old superstition is still well known today!
(adjective) A sound that is so frightening that it might “curdle your blood” This is a reference to when milk spoils or “curdles” (the curd and the whey separate).
(noun) An imaginary evil spirit used to scare children.
6. Broom and broomstick
(noun) Witches were believed to ride through the night sky on broomsticks.
7. Casket or coffin
(noun) The rectangular box in which a corpse is placed for burial.
8. Cape or cloak
(noun) A loose, draping garment worn around the shoulders and hanging down around the body.
(noun) A dead body.
(adjective) scary, nasty, disgusting.
(noun or verb) anything worn or done to conceal your identity. Wigs, masks and makeup are common parts of a disguise.
12. “Double double toil and trouble…”
From Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In this scene the 3 witches are stirring their cauldron (like a big soup pot), over the fire, chanting magical words.
(noun) Usually a cat who assists a witch in her tasks. In European folklore and folk-belief of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, familiars were believed to be supernatural entities who could assist witches and other cunning people in their practice of magic. Cunning people could achieve their goals in dishonest or evil ways.
14. Frighten or frightening
(verb/adjective) To scare or to be scary; to invoke fear.
(adjective) To look white and transparent and indistinct, like a ghost.
(adjective) In common use, this word means terrible, as in a “ghastly situation.” But the meaning associated with Halloween is to look like you are near death; very shocked, ill or pale.
17. Ghoul or ghoulish
(noun/adjective) To be or look like a demon-like being or monstrous humanoid originating in pre-Islamic Arabian religion, In modern fiction, this term is often been used for a certain kind of undead monster. See undead below.
(Adjective) Associated with violence, bloodshed and serious injuries.
19. Grave and a graveyard
(noun) Also called a cemetery, where bodies are buried. Slang: boneyard.
20. Grim reaper
(noun) The mythical figure who carries a scythe (an agricultural tool with a long handle and a crescent-shaped blade). He collects the dead.
(noun) A feeling of terror; extreme fear. Also a genre of films, books and stories.
(verb/noun) An animal-like sound, such as when a wolf howls at the moon; associated with pain, grief and madness.
23. Jack o’lantern
(noun) In modern times, a jack o’lantern is a pumpkin carved at Halloween, with a candle inside. But the term “jack-o’-lantern” was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. A decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs and marshes. A lantern is a light with a transparent case. The first vegetable jack o’lanterns were turnips, carved and carried for protection at Samhain, the Celtic festival now known as Halloween. But when the tradition came to America with Irish and Scottish immigrants, pumpkins were more common, and that is why we associate the pumpkin so strongly with jack o’lanterns.
The name Jack o’lantern is also related to the Irish legend of Stingy Jack, a drunkard who bargains with Satan and is doomed to roam the Earth with only a hollowed turnip to light his way.
(noun) The supernatural ability to bend or change reality and events. Often associated with witches.
(noun) A ghost or apparition. Something seen, heard, or sensed, but having no physical reality; an image that appears only in the mind; an illusion or delusion.
(noun) All the bones, from skull to toe, all in their proper relative position.
27. Spooky and spooks
(adjective/noun) Scary or frightening. Spooks are ghosts.
28. Trick or treat
What children say when they knock on your door on Halloween night. This is a playful threat: “give us candy or we will do something naughty” such as “soaping” (putting soap on your windows) or TP’ing (toilet papering) your house or trees.
(noun/adjective) “Undead” beings are technically dead, but are still animate. Because “animate” means alive or having life, this word presents a contradiction that stimulates morbid curiosity, fear and unease.
(noun) A slender piece of wood, held in the hand, that witches use to cast spells and direct power.
(noun) Wicca is a modern earth-based neopagan religion. Scholars of religion consider it both a new religious movement and part of an occultist stream of Western esotericism. Wicca draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan and 20th-century hermetic motifs for its theological structure and ritual practices.
Read more: A Brief History of Halloween from the New York Public Library
Halloween History Videos
National Geographic’s The History of Halloween
Vintage Scary Film Recommendations
Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein”
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Brenda de Jong-Pauley, October 2020
Scary header photo by NeONBRAND at Unsplash