The Mysterious Case of the Word ‘Ghost’

Have you ever questioned the purpose of the silent H in ‘ghost’? It’s absolutely useless, but there’s a great story behind it.

It goes back to William Caxton, an English merchant and diplomat, who lived in the 15th century. While in Germany, he became familiar with Gutenberg’s latest invention – the printing press, – and liked the idea so much that he set up one of his own in Flanders.

Upon his return to England, Caxton brought his team of Flemish typesetters with him to introduce the printing press to his home country.

At the time the Flemish word for ‘ghost’ was ‘gheest’ (with an H). So Caxton’s Flemish-speaking typesetters thought that the Old English ‘gost’ (without an H) was wrong and decided to correct the ‘mistake’ by inserting the missing letter.

But the story doesn’t end there. As a ricochet effect, ‘aghast‘ (horrified) and ‘ghastly’ (terrible) also got a silent H.

Now you know who to blame next time you misspell one of these ‘corrected’ words!

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