Rogue Words from A to Z: A History of Homely Hauntings

A to Z Letter HIs that decrepit old haunted house historical or historic? Or neither?

The word historical means “of or relating to or occurring in history.” Historical refers to something that happened in the past.

Josephine looked around in interest as she followed the tour guide through the creepy old manor. She stopped in front of a painted portrait of a young, dark-haired woman with a protruding nose and sharp black eyes.

“Who is this?” she asked the guide. “She looks rather homely.”

Historical evidence indicates that this is the daughter of the original owner,” said the guide. “She tragically went missing one night, and no one ever saw her again.”

The word historic, on the other hand, means “historically significant” β€” a momentous happening or development. An event can be historical without being historic. Only important events are historic.

“I’m surprised I never heard about her,” said Josephine.

The guide raised her eyebrows. “Her disappearance was quite a historic event in these parts.”

“Well, it can’t have been that historic if no one talks about it any more,” pointed out Josephine.

The guide sniffed her disdain at this pronouncement.

(Side note: An event is a historic event, not an historic event. The h in historic should be treated like any other consonant.)

The Haunted House / Das GeisterhausSo is this old building historic, or historical? It’s neither. A house that still exists is in the present, not the past. But the house could be of historical interest to those who study history.

“Well, really,” said Josephine, annoyed, “if this house is of such historical interest, they should do a better job of advertising it. And make it more homey for visitors,” she said, eyeing the cobwebs in the corners.

“Some people say that the house is haunted by the spirit of the missing woman,” said the guide, glaring, “and that bad luck will come to those who bring negative energy with them.”

“Well, that was subtle,” said Josephine. “I have better ways to spend my time than being insulted. I’m leaving.” She stalked off down the hall. The guide shut the light off and trailed behind her, thankful that this was her last tour of the day.

In the gloom, the eyes of the portrait followed them.

Bonus Word: Homely

The word homey means “homelike.” Homely originally shared this meaning, but this has changed over time. In British English, homely means simple or unpretentious. But in American English, it means unattractive or plain. I’ll leave you to decide whether the woman in the portrait was insulted!

Do you have any good haunted house stories that you’d like to share? πŸ™‚


This post is dedicated to Jaso.

Image of Haunted House by Harald Hoyer, from Wikimedia Commons

Definitions and usage information were sourced from Garner’s Modern American Usage. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will immobilize the intractable letter I…


Β© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

45 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: A History of Homely Hauntings

  1. Good clarification of “historic & historical”. I use them often in my travel logs, i should double check that they were used correctly. I did encountered haunted places in my travels, too many to write about in the section comments! From east to west of our continent ie: Saint-Augustine lighthouse, Ghost Town in Nine Miles Canyon (outbacks of Utah), ancient Anasazi ruins and more…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice clarification! I’ve probably mixed these up from time to time. And I like the British definition of “homely” better. Not everything needs to be all fancy and sparkly to be attractive. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That was so helpful. I always mix the two words… and especially I’m never sure whether when I write ‘a historical’ is write. Seems like I should trust myself more πŸ˜‰

    That h is quite bothersom. Sometimes it’s treated like a vocal, sometimes like a consonant. Is there a rule for it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, H is a bothersome letter. I don’t know of any set rule for determining when H should be pronounced as a consonant (if anyone else does, I encourage you to post it). The Oxford dictionary does talk about why some words have a silent H – it’s based on what language the word was derived from:
      You’ve got me intrigued – I’m going to look into this further. I suspect this would make for a good post!


  4. Of course, I meant ‘is right’, I don’t know why lately my fingers always want to write ‘write’ instead of ‘right’. And they always want to write ‘where’ instead of ‘were’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Some people do apply the word “historic” to old buildings, which is fine if the building has true historical significance (like a building where some important historical event occurred). I’ve seen the example “the Alamo is a historic building.” But “historical” building doesn’t work, and ideally should not be used.

      Hope this helps!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Lori! In the past, the style was to use “an” with certain words beginning with h (but not with others), so you’ve probably seen it in a few places. Today, though, the rule is applied consistently to treat it as a consonant if the “h” sound is pronounced. So much easier!


  5. Sure, I’ve got a haunted house story.

    After my grandfather died (I wasn’t close to him,) my family traveled to Texas for the funeral, and since my grandmother was unused to sleeping alone in the larger part of the house, my father elected my sister and I to sleep on my grandfather’s bed, which was in the room connected to our grandmother’s.

    The bed he had his fatal heart attack in.

    We of course protested, being in our tweens and sensitive girls, but my father would have none of it. Comic books were promised for good behavior.

    We went to bed that night hoping the night would just pass on by calmly.

    But, at around 2:30am, I heard a sound and opened my eyes. The bedroom door was open. And from the hallway, a man walked into the room, a man I did not recognize. He stared at the bed for a few seconds, before walking over to the dresser, picking something up, and then walking through the bathroom area towards my grandmother’s room.

    I was positive that I was just psyching myself out, so went back to sleep, with trouble.

    The next morning, I was feeling groggy and out of sorts. My sister woke up even more slowly than me. When she finally rubbed her eyes of sleep, she said, “I had the weirdest dream.”


    “Yeah. This weird guy walked through the room and went to the dresser. I think it was grandpa.”

    I can not tell you how cold my neck hairs felt at that moment.

    “I had the same dream,” I tell my sister.

    We go to the dresser, find out the item was my grandfather’s old watch that he had never taken off before, and then run crying to our father, demanding we are never made to sleep in that room again.

    Suffice to say, we didn’t. πŸ˜›

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that is some story! Thanks so much for sharing it, Alex. I would be so freaked out if that happened to me. Yikes! As of right now, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a ghost, but I know some other people who have experienced poltergeists and other strange things. I’m glad you didn’t have to go back to that room!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I hadn’t realised that homely only means plain/unattractive in American English. I obviously have read too much American English, I had assumed that the negative connotation was also in British English.

    I kind of have a haunted house story, but I won’t share it as it’ll be the subject of my next blog post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It amuses me that the folks saying “an historical” (either in life or in fiction) tend to be ones who are known for being right or smart… and it is of course quite obviously wrong… Great post πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, David! You’re right there. I’ve learned to never fuss over any “rules” without looking them up, because I am often wrong. Not to mention things change so much over time! “An historical” would have been great usage a long time ago, but I prefer to live in the now. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

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