• haunt •
Pronunciation: hawnt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, transitive
Meaning: 1. To frequent, to appear in or at often, as to haunt the West End theaters. 2. To appear in or inhabit as a ghost, as a haunted house.
Notes: The original sense of today's semantically schizophrenic word was "to appear frequently", as we frequently appear at home. Beginning with Shakespeare (see Word History), that sense narrowed to simply "spirits of the departed frequenting a building". This verb may also be used as a noun to refer to places frequented, as in revisiting my old haunts after 20 years. Down south in the US, haunts, pronounced haints, are also ghosts. Haunters are still frequenters though, even as the meaning of this word drifts away from its original sense.
In Play: Since a ghost can be almost anything scary, we might combine both personalities of today's Good Word in a sentence like this: "I spend more time alone as I find more and more of my old haunts are haunted by the same ghosts." The association of this word with softness and spirits gives it entree to very lovely uses: "Llewellyn's thoughts were haunted by Melanie's soft voice and opulent hair."
Word History: English borrowed today's Good Word from Old French hanter "to frequent", which had been adopted not long before from Old Norse heimta "bring home". Heimta, of course, looks a lot like English home and German Heim, since they share a common ancestor. The sense of a spirit's returning to the house where it had lived may have included this meaning long ago, but it was popularized by Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590). Haunt, a place one frequents, came about somewhat earlier. The noun meaning "spirit that haunts a place, ghost" is first recorded in 1843, originally as pronounced in stereotypical southern Black English, haint. (We are happy that our Agora is among Chris Berry's haunts, for it is there he suggests hauntingly lovely words like today's.)
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