1. vampire: Forget the romanticized image of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart sharing their love throughout eternity. The original concept of the vampire was less attractive and quite scary. Where does this word originate from? Well, the word vampire first appeared in 1734; but there are no conclusive source for the word and concept of the word. The most widely accepted theory is that vampire has its origins from the Serbian word вампир (transliterated into vampire), which is plausible, as it was in Serbia that the first government documented cases of vampires were recorded between 1728 and 1732.

2. werewolf: The shapeshifter who has the ability to turn from man into a wolf is the common understanding of this word; werewolf comes from the Old English werwulf (wer means ‘man’, wulf means wolf). Another word to describe this monster is lycanthrope, which comes from the Greek language (lykos for ‘wolf’, anthropos for ‘man’); the earliest written documentation of the werewolf was written by Herodotus in 440 BC where he describes a tribe of people in Scythia who annually transformed into wolves. Ovid’s ‘The Metamorphoses’ tells of King Lycaon of Acadia, who was turned into a wolf by the god Jupiter.

3. ghost: Every culture has some idea of these apparitional beings; the original spelling is gast from Middle English, but the word ‘ghost’ comes from the German word geist, which means spirit, which comes from the earlier Proto-Germanic gaistaz. Some of the earliest ‘ghost stories’ can be traced back to Ancient Mesopotamia, but it’s believed even our prehistoric ancestors believed in an afterlife.

4. zombie: The word that was made part of the English language thanks to George Romero and John Russo’s film Night of the Living Dead, and used to represent the dead returned to life to eat human flesh. But the original meaning of zombie (or zombie) stems from Haitian voodoo, to refer to the victim of a Bokor, a voodoo witch doctor; the bokor would administer a secret powder containing several toxins, which would render the victim in a death-like state; after burial, the zombi would be exhumed, and would remain under the power of the Bokor as a memory-less slave. The Haitian word zombi originated from West Africa, and is believed to come from zumbi (‘fetish’) and nzambi (‘a god’) in the Kikongo spoken by the Bakongo and Bandundu people living in the African Congo.

5. witch: The word that is most often associated with black cats, cauldrons and pointy black hats comes from the Old English word wicce, which means ‘female magician or sorceress’, which accurately describes the arch-enemy of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. It is believed that witch comes from Proto-German wikkjaz, meaning ‘necromancer’ (one who wakes the dead).

It’s scary to think that learning English involves learning so many words that have their origins in other languages; but that is part of what makes English courses so fun!

Michael Bunyak

English Teacher at Canadian Education College, Singapore