Why Is There a Hollow in Halloween?
by Owen Fourie
Do you observe or celebrate Holloween?
If you do, pause for a moment and consider the spelling of the actual word that names this observance: H-a-l-l-o-w-e-e-n. Note that the second letter is A.
Now, unless you are in the habit of speaking in this way, “I saw my dag chasing my neighbor’s cot,” you should know this:
- when you see an a in this position in a word, between consonants, and with no e following the second consonant,
- the a must be pronounced as the a in cat,
- not as the o in cot.
So, try saying, “cattoween,” and then say, “Halloween.”
Warning: If you ever say “Holloween” again, it will rain cots and dags on October 31, and there will be no tricks or treats on that evening.
Question: What is a dag? One meaning could be something that my dog is not: a lock of dung-coated wool of a sheep. Correct pronunciation is important, or there will be rank confusion. Imagine such a lock of wool chasing a type of bed!
A few facts about the 31st of October
October 31 is an interesting date with many associations. Here are some facts about this day and the origin of the name “Halloween”. This will help you to understand the correct pronunciation.
- It is at this time of the year that the northern hemisphere moves more obviously out of the summer into the winter. The nights are longer than the days.
- It is a date that is well identified with the time of harvest.
- It is Samhain in the Celtic calendar. To pronounce Samhain, let the first syllable rhyme with cow and the second with win; then say, “sow-in.” It is the Gaelic harvest festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of the darker half of the year.
- It is the biggest festival of the Witches’ year—the night in which the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. This condition permits the dead to visit the world of the living. The living welcome the spirits of the dead and celebrate their memory.
- It is the evening before All Saints’ Day or All Hallows Day—November 1—in the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. All Hallows Eve on October 31 is the vigil to All Saints’ Day. The name Halloween is derived from hallow and evening, and there is nothing hollow about that.
- It is Reformation Day in the Protestant Churches, the anniversary of the event that marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. That event was the action of the German theologian Martin Luther (1483-1546) who is reported to have nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
The word Halloween is a Scottish variant of All Hallows Even (or Evening). Hallow refers to whatever is set apart, blessed, or consecrated as being holy. Consequently, the name Halloween deserves better treatment than it receives by being carelessly or ignorantly pronounced, “Holloween”.
Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome. Are there other words whose pronunciation confuses you? Ask here for clarification.
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