Spooky

I was musing on the German word ‘geist’, which seemed to mean both spirit and mind. How could that be? Do German speakers actually perceive the world differently? So, off to geist in Wikipedia, which reveals:

German Geist… translation of Latin spiritus… originally referred to frightening apparitions or ghosts… acquired a Christian meaning from an early time, notably in reference to the Holy Spirit/ Holy Ghost… could refer to spooks or ghostly apparitions, to the religious… Holy Spirit, as well as to the “spirit of wine”…

… its special meaning of “mind, intellect” never shared by English ghost is acquired only in the 18th century, under the influence of French espritGeist could now refer to the quality of intellectual brilliance, to wit, innovation, erudition, etc. It is also in this time that the adjectival distinction of geistlich “spiritual, pertaining to religion” vs. geistig “intellectual, pertaining to the mind”… also geisterhaft “ghostly, spectral”.

German Geist in this particular sense of “mind, wit, erudition; intangible essence, spirit” has no precise English-language equivalent, for which reason translators sometimes retain Geist as a German loanword.

That pretty well sums it up. English took both Latin/French and Saxon/Germanic origins and mashed them around a bit, never quite staying in step with either (cf Brexit). And that’s why we still talk about the ‘holy ghost’, rather than the ‘holy spirit’. Hence friend Alf‘s characterisation of the holy trinity as: Big Daddy, Our Kid and Spooky.

And that’s also why we don’t have a word for ‘zeitgeist’.

Featured image cropped from Depiction of the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove,
by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica, c. 1660,
via Wikimedia Commons

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