Sunday, 31 October 2010


Hallowe'en (or Hallow-e'en or Halloween, pronounced /ˌhæl əʊˈiːn/ in General British) is literally taken from All Hallow Eve(n). The word even is a poetic and dialectal but otherwise fairly old-fashioned word for evening. The apostrophe in the spelling Halloe'en indicates the omission of a letter - here <v>. There aren't many words in English, by the way, which signal the omission of a letter (or two) by an apostrophe. I won't go into apostrophes - just a few examples may suffice: Jack-o'-lantern, sou'wester, fo'c'sle, ha'penny, 'cause, isn't, O'Leary etc.

Hallow is derived from Old English (= OE) hāliȝ meaning 'holy'. One of its inflected forms is hālȝa. This developed into halȝa (shortening before Cs). The <ȝ> was pronounced [ɣ] before back vowels in OE times; in unstressed syllables this sound became an u-like vowel, and later on probably due to the preceding [l] a diphthong containing an [u] as its second element - written <ow> - came into existence. According to OED the word hallow was little used after 1500 (see date chart):
Hallowe'en seems to have Celtic origins according to Nicholas Rogers (2002), Halloween, OUP . In the medieval Irish calendar the festival of Samhain (pronounced /saʊn, ˈsɑːwɪn, ˈsaʊən/) was celebrated to mark stock-taking, the yearly harvest, to greet the imminent winter etc. Rogers continues: 
It was also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad, spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. (12)
So it was basically a non-Christian, heathenish festival. And what is it today? Ask me not!


  1. Kraut,
    have a look at my blog. Your post today ties in well with what I dealt with yesterday!

  2. Hello,

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I have mentioned it in my recent post about the term.

    In Spain the word is widely used at this time of the year, and I'm afraid to say that the stess usually goes in the first syllable, whether isolated or in discourse. In my opinion, since it's a foreign word we should not stand on the stress shift possibility, i.e., everytime we mention "Halloween" is actually an "isolated" term. However I do not have a grammatical rule to back this. What do you think about this?

    On the other hand, I'd like to ask you why the strees was originally placed upon the third syllable. Is it because in the original phrase "all hallows even" the strongest stress was on the word "even"? Or is it maybe because everytime there's a long vowel sound it will carry the main stress?

    Thank you very much!