Morbid Words to Learn for Halloween


October 16 is Dictionary Day! Today we celebrate the birthday of Noah Webster (b. 1758), the father of the modern dictionary. In fact, we use Merriam-Webster as our main dictionary at ESL Library! See the post on our in-house style guide for more information.

Halloween is just around the corner, and in the past we’ve shared activities, lessons, flashcards, and a list of tricky spellings like “jack-o’-lantern” (see Related Resources below). This year, in honor of Dictionary Day, we thought we’d share a list of words with rather disturbing origins! Did you know that many English words stem from the Latin root for “death”? Present this list in class before Halloween, and see if your students can come up with more morbid terms!

Note: All definitions and etymologies taken from Merriam-Webster Online.


Meaning: the crime of deliberately killing a person
Origin: partly from Middle English murther, from Old English morthor; partly from Middle English murdre, from Anglo-French, of Germanic origin; akin to Old English morthor; akin to Old High German mord murder, Latin mort-, mors death, mori to die, mortuus dead, Greek brotos mortal
First known use: before 12th century
Meaning: certain to die; causing death
Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French mortel, mortal, from Latin mortalis, from mort-, mors death
First known use: 14th century
Meaning: the quality or state of being a person or thing that is alive and therefore certain to die; the death of a person, animal, etc.
Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French mortel, mortal, from Latin mortalis, from mort-, mors death
First known use: 14th century
Meaning: of or relating to death or burial
Origin: Latin mortuarius of the dead, from mortuus dead
First known use: 1514
Meaning: a legal agreement in which a person borrows money to buy property (such as a house) and pays back the money over a period of years
Origin: Middle English morgage, from Anglo-French mortgage, from mort dead (from Latin mortuus) + gage gage (pledge)
First known use: 15th century
Note: This one is my favorite! Pay until you die—sounds about right!
Meaning: relating to unpleasant subjects (such as death)
Origin: from Latin morbidus diseased
First known use: 1656
Meaning: to cut off the head of (a person or animal)
Origin: Late Latin decapitatus, past participle of decapitare, from Latin de- + capit-, caput head
First known use: around 1611
Meaning: to throw a person or thing out of a window
Origin: de- + Latin fenestra window
First known use: 1620

Related Resources

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Leave a Comment ↓

  1. Shari says:

    Oct 23, 2015 at 12:30 pm

    I’m sure ‘amortization’ is related to ‘death’ as well!

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Oct 23, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Good one, Shari! Merriam-Webster lists the origin of “amortization” as: “Middle English amortisen to kill, alienate in mortmain, from Anglo-French amorteser, alteration of amortir, from Vulgar Latin *admortire to kill, from Latin ad- + mort-, mors death”

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