I’ve been musing on the word haunt lately and, given that we are approaching Halloween, it seems like a good time to write about it.
A few weeks ago, I told a friend that the Bear Creek Greenway haunts me. My friend naturally asked, “What do you mean?” to which I tried to answer in words that seemed inadequate, but went something like:
Whenever I ride on the trail, I feel like I’m in an alien place; alien, but familiar. Something about the smells or the landscape evokes feelings or memories that are oddly eerie — oddly because I can’t put my finger on why the feelings and memories would affect me that way.
Well, I decided I had to look up the word I had chosen. According to my copy of The American Heritage Dictionary, haunt is defined as:
- To inhabit, visit, or appear to in the form of a ghost or other supernatural being.
- To visit often; frequent.
- To come to mind continually; obsess.
- To be continually present in; pervade.
My first reading of the entry left me feeling that the definition was inadequate. There’s a flavor to the word as it is often used that is missed here. Can’t something be haunting without being supernatural?
I found some of the nuance I was looking for online (at dictionary.reference.com), which had these, more satisfying entries:
- to disturb or distress; cause to have anxiety; trouble; worry.
- (for haunting) poignantly sentimental; enchantingly or eerily evocative [my emphasis]
Now we’re getting somewhere. The last entry even repeats forms of my earlier description’s “evoke” and “eerie.” Why, it’s almost as if someone were inside my head stealing my thoughts!
As an aside, I should confess that, left to my own devices, I’d very likely list the definitions of eerie, evoke, poignant, ghost and supernatural here as well, but part of me recognizes that might be overkill, so let me instead leave you with these questions:
- If I haunt a place, does it cause anxiety or distress to the place?
- Can a place be haunted for one person, but not for another?
- If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear, are the birds and other critters haunted by the silence?
I’ve decided I’m going to include a little something haunting with every post for the coming week or two. Today’s offering is this video of the song “Rawhead and Bloody Bones” by Siouxsie & the Banshees:
What haunts you?