Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Demons, both devilish & angelic

Demons, both devilish & angelic

As All Hallow’s Eve comes closer…

The word devil, has always referred to something bad – or at least something dangerous. Deofol was an Old English word meaning evil spirit, false god, or diabolical person. It came from Late Latin’s diabolus, a term used both in Christianity & Judaism to mean Satan, accuser or slanderer. By 1600, English speakers had added the meaning clever rogue, as in “you devil, you.” By 1835 in American English the word devil also referred to sand spouts & dust storms.

Demon, on the other hand, went from good to bad over time. Demon entered English as early as 1200. It came from the Latin word daemon, meaning spirit. The Latin came from the Greek, daimon, which meant deity, divine power, lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity, or souls of the dead. Daimon also had an intriguing secondary meaning: one’s genius, lot, or fortune. The Greek and Latin meanings are a far cry from demon’s negative meaning today. This “demonizing” of the word demon occurred about the time of the establishment of Christianity. Though Socrates wrote of his demon as the divine principle or inward oracle, over time, the grandmothers of our modern word demon were translated to words like idols, fiends, devils and hellknights, How different would our world be today if demon had maintained its Socratic flavor, & had been equated with that still small voice within?

If it gives you a chuckle, may you hear some still small voices at your door the evening of October 31st.  If you’d rather embrace your inner curmudgeon, may the little devils walk right past your place to spread their brand of joy elsewhere.

Dear followers, what are your thoughts on the demonizing of demon? Might that etymology have inspired series like Pullman’s His Dark Materials? Would any of you care to grab some presently evil word & propose a glowing past for it?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,, The OED & Wordnik.


  1. Bad move, early Christians, demonizing the human spirit. Maybe they were scared of what was in their own souls?

  2. Ah, Miss Allen,
    There's a question for the ages.

  3. Yes, sounds like one more way early Christians coopted a word or tradition to bring those demonic Pagans into the fold. Interesting that Satan, accuser and slanderer would all be definitions of the same word. Guess we've lightened up a bit on the latter two accusations.