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Alternative forms[edit]


From Middle English gost, from Old English gāst, which was the word for "spirit" as well as "ghost" (the original sense survives in Modern English Holy Ghost from Old English Hāliġ Gāst). Further from Proto-West Germanic *gaist, from Proto-Germanic *gaistaz, from Proto-Indo-European *ǵʰéysdos, derived from *ǵʰéysd- (anger, agitation).

Cognate with Scots ghaist (ghost), Saterland Frisian Gäist (spirit), West Frisian geast (spirit), Dutch geest (spirit, mind, ghost), German Geist (spirit, mind, intellect), Swedish gast (ghost). Wider cognates include Sanskrit हेड (héḍa, anger, hatred), Persianزشت(zešt, ugly, hateful, disgusting).

The 'h' in the spelling appears in the Prologue to William Caxton's Royal Book, printed in 1484, in a reference to the 'Holy Ghoost', likely introduced by Caxton's assistant, Wynkyn de Worde, as a result of Flemish influence, where it was spelled 'gheest' at the time.[1]



ghost (countable and uncountable, plural ghosts)

  1. (uncommon or dated) The spirit; the human soul.
    Synonyms: essence, soul, spirit; see also Thesaurus:ghost
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, “Book I, Canto VII”, in The Faerie Queene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for William Ponsonbie, →OCLC, stanza 31:
      hen gins her grieued ghost thus to lament and mourne.
    • 2013, Kenneth Palmer, Just Thoughts: Looking at Man's Whole Self, page 20:
      Enlightening the eyes and a taste for hope, emotions are felt from an inward ghost.
    • 2014, Neville Moray, Science, Cells and Souls: An Introduction to Human Nature:
      If I thought that “I” referred to my inner ghost, I wouldn't be worried because a bullet can't hurt a ghost, and equally there would be no point in your shooting.
    • 2017, Anastasia Burton, You and I, in a Thousand Moons:
      It also required four years of finding your inner ghost and becoming one with it. The inner ghost is within every person who is still alive.
  2. The disembodied soul; the soul or spirit of a deceased person; a spirit appearing after death.
    Synonyms: apparition, bogey, haint, phantom, revenant, specter, spook, wraith
    Everyone believed that the ghost of an old lady haunted the crypt.
    • 1668, John Dryden, Annus Mirabilis: The Year of Wonders, M. DC. LXVI. [], London: [] Henry Herringman, [], →OCLC, (please specify the stanza number):
      The mighty ghosts of our great Harries rose.
    • 1798, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere:
      I thought that I had died in sleep/And was a blessed ghost
    • 1886 October – 1887 January, H[enry] Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure, London: Longmans, Green, and Co., published 1887, →OCLC:
      For a moment I was puzzled, but presently, of course, it struck me that he must have seen Ayesha, wrapped in her grave-like garment, and been deceived by the extraordinary undulating smoothness of her walk into a belief that she was a white ghost gliding towards him.
    • 1992, Rudolf M[athias] Schuster, The Hepaticae and Anthocerotae of North America: East of the Hundredth Meridian, volume V, New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, →ISBN, page vii:
      Hepaticology, outside the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere, still lies deep in the shadow cast by that ultimate "closet taxonomist," Franz Stephani—a ghost whose shadow falls over us all.
  3. Any faint shadowy semblance; an unsubstantial image.
    Synonyms: glimmer, glimmering, glimpse, hint, inkling, phantom, spark, suggestion.
    • 1845 February, — Quarles [pseudonym; Edgar Allan Poe], “The Raven”, in The American Review[1], volume I, number II, New York, N.Y., London: Wiley & Putnam, [], →OCLC:
      And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    • 2013 May-June, William E. Conner, “An Acoustic Arms Race”, in American Scientist[2], volume 101, number 3, archived from the original on 17 July 2013, pages 206–7:
      Earless ghost swift moths become “invisible” to echolocating bats by forming mating clusters close (less than half a meter) above vegetation and effectively blending into the clutter of echoes that the bat receives from the leaves and stems around them.
    • 2017 July 23, Brandon Nowalk, “The great game begins with a bang on Game Of Thrones (newbies)”, in The Onion AV Club[3]:
      [] She barely answers his questions. She’s a ghost of herself. And then Hot Pie gives us the key to Arya’s whole thing this season so far: She didn’t know that Jon had defeated the Boltons.
    not a ghost of a chance
    the ghost of an idea
  4. A false image formed in a telescope, camera, or other optical device by reflection from the surfaces of one or more lenses.
  5. An unwanted image similar to and overlapping or adjacent to the main one on a television screen, caused by the transmitted image being received both directly and via reflection.
    Synonym: echo
    • 2007, Albert Abramson, The History of Television, 1942 to 2000, page 60:
      There was less flicker, jitter was nonexistent, and the screen pattern had been rendered far more viewworthy, with ghosts being virtually suppressed.
  6. A ghostwriter.
  7. A nonexistent person invented to obtain some (typically fraudulent) benefit.
    • 2004, Joint Learning Initiative, Global Equity Initiative, Human Resources for Health: Overcoming the Crisis, page 76:
      Some health systems are plagued by "ghost" and "absent" workers. Ghost workers are nonexistent, listed in the payroll, and paid, a clear sign of corruption.
    • 2008, The Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, page 63:
      1,500 secondary schools in Jiangxi found 125 cases of illegally collected Ghosts and Absentees fees worth $2 million.
    • 2023, Barony of Ponte Alto, Society for Creative Anachronism, Ponte Alto Pennsic Encampment 2023 - Barony Registration:
      Before filling out this form, please visit the Pennsic Pre-Registration Page to create your account and enter your campers and ghosts [nonexistent campers one pays for to legitimately increase the size of one's allotted camping space].
  8. A dead person whose identity is stolen by another. See ghosting.
  9. (Internet) An unresponsive user on IRC, resulting from the user's client disconnecting without notifying the server.
    • 2004, Paul Mutton, IRC Hacks: 100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools, page 31:
      This will let you open a query with NickServ again so you can remove your “ghost” from the server: []
  10. (computing) An image of a file or hard disk.
    Synonym: backup
  11. (theater) An understudy.
  12. (espionage) A covert (and deniable) agent.
    Synonyms: spook, spy
  13. The faint image that remains after an attempt to remove graffiti.
    Synonym: shadow
    • 1992, Maurice J. Whitford, Getting Rid of Graffiti, page 45:
      Regardless of GRM used, graffiti ghosts persist. Protect cladding with surface coating or replace with graffiti resistant paint or laminate.
  14. (video games) An opponent in a racing game that follows a previously recorded route, allowing players to compete against previous best times.
    • 2012, Keith Burgun, Game Design Theory: A New Philosophy for Understanding Games:
      This is also the case for some racing games (Super Mario Kart is a good example) that allow you to compete against your ghosts, which are precise recordings of your performance.
  15. Someone whose identity cannot be established because there are no records of him/her.
  16. (quantum mechanics) An unphysical state in a gauge theory.
    • 1966, Kàzmèr L. Nagy, State Vector Spaces with Indefinite Metric in Quantum Field Theory, page 14:
      The proof is well known, and independent of the metric, but to make certain we prove it here also for the case when the state vector system of an operator contains multipole[sic] ghosts.
    • 2019, Radin Dardashti, Richard Dawid, Karim Thébault, Why Trust a Theory?, page 180:
      Soon after, the proof of the No-Ghost Theorem, establishing that the DRM has no ghosts if d ≤ 26, was achieved independently by Brower (1972) and by Goddard and Thorn (1972).
  17. (attributive, linguistics, computing) A formerly nonexistent character that was at some point mistakenly encoded into a character set standard, which might have since become used opportunistically for some genuine purpose.
    is a ghost character from the Japanese JIS X 0208 character set.
  18. (countable) Clipping of ghost pepper.
    • 2018 October 2, Julie Thompson-Adolf, Starting & Saving Seeds: Grow the Perfect Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs, and Flowers for Your Garden, Cool Springs Press, →ISBN, page 68:
      Spicy or mild, lovely bells or scary ghosts, peppers belong in your garden. Not only are they delicious, they add a gorgeous pop of color to vegetable gardens. When starting pepper seeds, consider using a heat mat.
    • 2022 July 5, Alice Zaslavsky, In Praise of Veg: The Ultimate Cookbook for Vegetable Lovers, Appetite by Random House, →ISBN:
      Fresh chili has a glossy smooth skin like a bell pepper...unless you're in scorching territory, with the likes of Ghosts or Reapers (their name should give the game away), where the skin looks [wrinkled].
  19. (uncountable) A game in which players take turns to add a letter to a possible word, trying not to complete a word.
  20. (attributive, in names of species) White or pale.
  21. (attributive, in names of species) Transparent or translucent.
  22. (attributive) Abandoned.
  23. (attributive) Remnant; the remains of a(n).
    ghost apples (a thin layer of ice in the shape of an apple, which forms around it and is left behind when the apple rots and falls out)
    ghost fossils (impressions of things like shells that remain in the rock after the shell etc dissolves)
    ghost cell
    ghost craters (craters that have been filled, e.g. with volcanic deposits)
  24. (attributive) Perceived or listed but not real.
    ghost cellphone vibration
    ghost pain
  25. (attributive) Of cryptid, supernatural or extraterrestrial nature.
  26. (attributive) Substitute.
    ghost singer

Derived terms[edit]

Terms derived from ghost


  • Japanese: ゴースト (gōsuto)


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

See also[edit]


ghost (third-person singular simple present ghosts, present participle ghosting, simple past and past participle ghosted)

  1. (obsolete, transitive) To haunt; to appear to in the form of an apparition.
  2. (obsolete) To die; to expire.
  3. (literary) To imbue with a ghost-like hue or effect.
    • 1938, Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent, 1st Australian edition, Sydney, N.S.W.: Ure Smith, published 1962, →OCLC, page 32:
      It spread slowly up from the sea-rim, a welling upwards of pure white light, ghosting the beach with silver and drawing the grey bastions of sandstone out of formless space.
  4. (transitive, intransitive) To ghostwrite.
    • 1976 September, Saul Bellow, Humboldt’s Gift, New York, N.Y.: Avon Books, →ISBN, page 41:
      Well, you wrote a few books, you wrote a famous play, and even that was half ghosted.
    • 2014 March 9, Elizabeth Day, “Is the LRB the best magazine in the world?”, in The Observer[4]:
      The current issue carries an extraordinary 26,000-word piece by Andrew O'Hagan on his failed attempt to ghost the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's memoir, which was trending on Twitter before copies even hit the news-stands.
  5. (nautical) To sail seemingly without wind.
    • 2016, Nathanael Johnson, Unseen City, →ISBN, page 192:
      They move without any visible sign of movement, like a wakeless ship ghosting over the water.
  6. (computing) To copy a file or hard drive image.
  7. (graphical user interface) To gray out (a visual item) to indicate that it is unavailable.
    • 1991, Amiga User Interface Style Guide, page 76:
      Whenever a menu or menu item is inappropriate or unavailable for selection, it should be ghosted. Never allow the user to select something that does nothing in response.
  8. (Internet, transitive) To forcibly disconnect an IRC user who is using one's reserved nickname.
    • 2001, Luke, “to leave (vb.): Hurg [OT]”, in (Usenet):
      I'm so untechnical that I once ghosted a registered IRC nick and then tried to identify myself to NickServ with the valid password before actually changing my nick to the aforementioned moniker.
  9. (intransitive) To appear or move without warning, quickly and quietly; to slip.
    • 2011 September 24, David Ornstein, “Arsenal 3 - 0 Bolton”, in BBC Sport[5]:
      Arsenal came into the match under severe pressure and nerves were palpable early on as Pratley was brilliantly denied by Szczesny after ghosting in front of Kieran Gibbs
    • 2011, Mark Harnden, In the Dark Backyard, →ISBN, page 59:
      At the flank of the main stage, I took root for an hour, until a female form ghosted in front of me that I recognised from university two years before.
    • 2012, Ian Tregillis, Bitter Seeds, →ISBN:
      He ghosted through the door. It clanged a few seconds later as his pursuer pounded on it.
  10. (transitive) To transfer (a prisoner) to another prison without the prior knowledge of other inmates.
    • 2020, Jamie Bennett, Victoria Knight, Prisoners on Prison Films, page 26:
      His power base, however, is undermined by him being constantly, “ghosted”, or moved from prison to prison.
  11. (slang) To kill.
    • 2000, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy, Pitch Black (film):
      My recommendation: Do me. Don't take the chance that I'll get shiv-happy on your wannabe ass. Ghost me, Riddick. Would if I were you. Though I notice he tried to ghost my ass. When he shot up that stranger instead.
    • 2004, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy, The Chronicles of Riddick (film):
      He just ghosted two guys, and I never even saw him. Plan was to clean the bank, ghost the mercs, break wide through the tunnel.
    • 2013, Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat, David Twohy, Riddick (film):
      This may come as a shock to you, Johns, but I didn't ghost your son. He seemed set on killin' himself. Diaz was gonna take the nodes for himself and ghost me. He was gonna leave you out here alone.
    • 2017 September 28, Josh Corbin, 37:03 from the start, in Start Up, season 2, episode 6, spoken by Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi):
      RONALD:”They tried to ghost your girl Isabel right here”. WES CHANDLER(played by Ron Perlman):”Tried to ‘ghost’ her?” RONALD:”Merk. 86. Put her down in the dirt. You feel me?”
  12. (slang, social media) To perform an act of ghosting: to break up with someone without warning or explanation; to ignore someone, especially on social media.
    • 2015 October 15, “Why is it so hard to go from chatting on Tinder to meeting up in real life?”, in The Guardian[6]:
      I’ve recently been trying out Tinder, and while I match with people and even chat with them everything seems to be going well, but whenever I bring up meeting IRL, they are quick to ghost me.
    • 2016 March 21, Allison P. Davies, “What I Learned Tindering My Way Across Europe”, in Travel + Leisure[7], archived from the original on 2018-01-06:
      By 6 p.m., I had a list of restaurants to try from Hamish, a chef who couldn’t meet, a follow-up from Adam (“I’ve never seen a room at the Ace....”), and an offer from Agoraphobic Paul to come over and “have a joint and a cuddle.” I’d confirmed a walking tour of Greenwich from Max, who ghosted.
    • 2017 September 26, Judith Duportail, “I asked Tinder for my data. It sent me 800 pages of my deepest, darkest secrets”, in The Guardian[8]:
      Tinder knows me so well. It knows the real, inglorious version of me who copy-pasted the same joke to match 567, 568, and 569; who exchanged compulsively with 16 different people simultaneously one New Year’s Day, and then ghosted 16 of them.
    • 2018, Ling Ma, chapter 17, in Severance, →ISBN:
      He had texted, called, and emailed a bunch since then. I hadn't meant to ghost, but it was just easier not to deal with it.
  13. (film) To provide the speaking or singing voice for another actor, who is lip-syncing.
    • 1955, Saturday Review (volume 38, part 2, page 27)
      Here's how it went: Larry Parks as elderly Al Jolson was watching Larry Parks playing young Al Jolson in the first movie — in other words, Parks ghosting for Parks. At the same time, Jolson himself was ghosting the voices for both of them.
    • 1999, The Golden Age of Musicals, page 50:
      One of the few performers to triumph over ghosting was Ava Gardner in Freed's Show Boat (1951). Not only does she lip-synch with breathtaking accuracy, her performance gives the cotton-candy production its only underpinning of realism.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Crystal, David (2012) Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling, London: Profile Books Ltd, →ISBN