Preta & Guisard – Friday’s AND Saturday’s Words of the Day

I missed posting yesterday’s word of the day, but as a bonus, today you shall have two lovely words to wrap your brain around! Friday’s word, Preta, a noun from Hindu Mythology meaning a wandering or disturbed ghost. And Saturday’s word, Guisard, a noun the means a person who wears a mask; mummer.

Given the season and impending dark night of all souls hallow, I thought it would be fitting to combine the two in a Haiku. Here’s a bit of history on the two from

Preta finds its origins In Sanskrit where e is a long vowel ( it is also transliterated as ē). Hindi grammarians correctly analyzed e as a monophthong replacing an earlier dipthong ai; thus the Sanskrit adjective preta, “gone before, deceased” is from an earlier form, ‘praita’, formed from the adverb and prefix ‘pra’ – “forth” and ‘ita’ – “gone”. Pra- is cognate with the Latin and Greek prepositions and prefixes, ‘prō’/‘pró’ (Greek) and ‘prae’, all of them meaning “before; in front of”. The Sanskrit participle ‘ita’ corresponds exactly with the Latin ‘itum’, past participle is the verb ‘īre’, “to go” and the Greek verbal adjective ‘itós’ “passable”, all from the Proto-Indi-European root ‘ei’, ‘i’ -“to go”. Preta entered English in the early 19th century. From wictionary we learn that: a Preta is a hungry ghost (a supernatural being in Buddhist folklore, the spirit of a greedy person whose divine retribution is to never be sated). How many a weary folk has woken to the first day of November the victim of mischievous antics of Pretas whose quest for sweets was not sated, in the form of TP garlands and raw egg peltings?!

And then there is Guisard, a Scottish and North English word. The first part of the word, guise, in Scotland and northern England means “to appear or go in disguise.” The suffix -ard, occasionally spelled -art, is now used mostly in a pejorative sense for someone who does something habitually or excessively, e.g., drunkard, braggart. Guisard entered English in the 17th century. Soon comes Halloween, when greedy, giddy guisards roam the streets, banging on doors, declaring their mantra, “trick or treat”. A wise somebody will appease these mummers by offering them the sweets they crave lest they transform into scary pretas with a vendetta to settle!

It’s all in good fun of course! An annual ritual that hearkens to an age when the veil between the living and the dead was not quite as pronounced. Our ancestors solemnly remembered and honored the dead more formally; gone but definitely not forgotten. Today we passingly engage this annual ritual in sport, sending our costumed children to the streets for a night of innocent begging. But the thinness of the veil is still there, souls lurking in the shadows, which adds to the drama of this dark, dark time.

These days, I must admit I turn my porch light out, not because I don’t enjoy the onslaught of tiny ghouls and gremlins, but because they terrify my fury housemates. We sit in darkness to the sound of potter-pattering feet outside our door…and entertain the lore of my ancestors, setting a place of honor at my table for loved ones passed. Sometimes I light a candle…or two or three to let them know I remember. I feel their presence ever so near. It could very well be my imagination, but there is something to this ancient dark night of all souls. Something indeed!

this dark night of souls
comes guisards begging for treats
pretas in the mist


4 responses to “Preta & Guisard – Friday’s AND Saturday’s Words of the Day

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