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Who Put the "Hallow" in Halloween?

As most histories of Halloween will tell you, Hallowe'en (or Halloween) is a shortened version of All-Hallow(s)-Eve, but how and why did eve turn into e'en? For that matter, what is a hallow? Why did the all get dropped? Our resident linguist Neal Whitman tackled this question last year for Halloween in his Behind the Dictionary column, "Hallow, What's This?

I'll get the last question out of the way first: I don't know why the all disappeared from Halloween. The citations in the Oxford English Dictionary have it with the all from the earliest one in 1556 to one in 1616 from Shakespeare (Allhallond-Eue, in Measure for Measure). From the 1700s onward, it's Hallowe'en.

At least until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows arrived, the closest word to hallows heard in present-day English was the verb hallow "to make holy", usually in the form of the past participle hallowed. Christians are familiar with it from the first sentence of the Lord's Prayer, in hallowed be thy name; other than that, it occurs most often in hallowed ground(s) or hallowed hall(s), according to the Corpus of Contemporary American English. In fact, hallow and holy come from the same root. In Old English, holy was spelled halig; with the verb-creating suffix ‑ian it produced halgian "to make holy", which underwent several sound changes over the centuries to end up as hallow. The ‑ian suffix is the closest Old English comes to being able to "verb a noun" without changing it. I've translated halgian as "to make holy", since we can't just talk about "holying" something in present-day English, but still,  "to holy" or "to holify" gives a better sense of having the meaning of "make holy" encapsulated in a single verb.

So much for hallow the verb; what about hallow the noun? J.K. Rowling used it to mean a sacred object, but that isn't its original meaning. It comes from halga, which as the masculine noun form of the adjective halig meant "holy person". In other words, hallow is a native English word for saint. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of the plural hallows was extended to mean relics or temples of the saints, and from there, Rowling went a step further to give it her desired meaning.

Moving on to eve and e'en, both are shortened versions of even, an archaic word for "evening". Even itself might seem to be a clipped version of evening (likewise morn and morning), and cultural historian David Skal even writes, "The word Halloween derives from the Middle English hallowen ... and the progressive contracting of evening to even to e'en." He's wrong here: Evening came later.

Read the rest of Neal's column here.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday October 31st 2012, 10:21 AM
Comment by: jordan C.
I put the hollow in holloween
Wednesday October 31st 2012, 11:04 AM
Comment by: Becky C.
One of my pet peeves: Holloween!
Wednesday October 31st 2012, 2:39 PM
Comment by: Maddy M. (IA)
Wow, I never knew that! How long did it take you to learn all that?
Wednesday October 31st 2012, 8:39 PM
Comment by: cedes <3 (saipan, MP)
Great article. I never knew such thing. I only knew a little about the whole, "Hallows Eve" thing from this series that I used to enjoy watching, Charmed. At least now I know!
Friday November 2nd 2012, 12:07 AM
Comment by: Edson C. (CA)
Nice how everyone's last names start with "c" I enjoyed this article. I had no idea what "hallows" meant in the harry potter series until I read this.
Friday November 2nd 2012, 7:00 AM
Comment by: Barbara A. (Paris)
Being one of those lucky persons who happens to have had the opportunity to become bilingual (English/French), word origins has become one of my favorite pastimes. Coming to France, which does not celebrate Halloween, but All Saints Day on November 1 (Toussaint) when the dead are remembered by putting flowers on the graves of the departed ones, led me to investigate the origins of Halloween, which is also related to Jack O'Lantern, and ancient pagan celebrations of preparing for the coming darkness of winter by having celebrations with lights: Jack with the Lantern, to frighten away evil or the devils.. Anyone who would care to add comments or make any corrections to my comments-by-memory, are quite welcome.
Friday November 2nd 2012, 10:44 AM
Comment by: Becky C.
Thank you so much Barbara for adding even more information on the holiday. I get all wrapped up in etymology, too, and find it fascinating as a way of tracking commerce, ideas between cultures.
Friday November 2nd 2012, 12:56 PM
Comment by: anoushka A.
I really don`t understand hollow eve and Halloween are the same so whats in the spelling yaar
Friday November 2nd 2012, 3:41 PM
Comment by: treyvonne D.
i didn't know this and this is interesting the same as Edson C. i never knew this in the deathly hallows until i read this thanks for the information! O_O
Sunday November 4th 2012, 1:37 PM
Comment by: christiane P. (paris Afghanistan)
I knew anythig about Halloween except that is a pagan even. Thank you to deepen my knowledge.
I have a lot to read.
Sunday November 4th 2012, 4:17 PM
Comment by: S P.
Awesome article
Tuesday November 13th 2012, 10:55 AM
Comment by: litzy V.
wow i never knew that! thank u to deepen my knowledge.
Thursday June 26th 2014, 12:59 AM
Comment by: Mrs. Thakur (India)
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Improve Your Vocabulary - VocabMonk is an active learning tool which is personalized and makes sure you grasp the learnt words by applying it. It is lot of fun too as you can play vocab challenges with your friends.
Give it a shot!

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