Printable Version
Pronunciation: gæs-li Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, adverb

Meaning: 1. Gruesome, horrible, extremely frightening, macabre, as 'a ghastly murder'. 2. Ghost-like, pale, pallid, deathly white, as 'ghastly skin'. 3. Extremely unpleasant, very bad or objectionable, as 'a ghastly error in judgment'.

Notes: This word is obviously related to ghost in ways explained in today's Word History. It may be used as an adjective or an adverb modifying an adjective, as 'ghastly pale', without duplicating the suffix -ly. The noun is the expectable ghastliness.

In Play: The basic sense of this word is "extremely horrible"; "War has too many ghastly aspects to ever be justified." Since it is historically related to ghost, it can also mean "ghost-like": "A few minutes in the snowy cold and her face was a ghastly shade of blue." It may also be used figuratively: "Phil Anders realized he had made a ghastly mistake making a pass at June McBride."

Word History: Old English (OE) had a verb gasten "to frighten, scare", which only survived in today's Good Word and the adjective aghast. The noun from gasten was gast "breath, spirit, angel, demon" in OE, which eventually turned into ghost. The OE meaning survived in the phrase 'Holy Ghost'. Its cousins, German Geist and Danish gejst, still mean "spirit" in both senses of the English word. The GH spelling arose in the 15th century, apparently under the influence of Flemish and Middle Dutch gheest. It seems to have evolved from PIE gheizd- "confused, shocked, frightened", source also of Sanskrit hedah "anger", Persian zešt "disgusting, ugly", and Icelandic geisa "rage, storm". In OE A was pronounced [ah], but by Modern English O shouldered that burden in some words: got, hot, pot. In Modern English the O in ghost came to be pronounced as in its name. (Paula Ward, who so enjoyed all the Halloween Good Words this year that she thought back then we might want to run today's curious Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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