pol·​ter·​geist | \ ˈpōl-tər-ˌgīst How to pronounce poltergeist (audio) \

Definition of poltergeist

: a noisy usually mischievous ghost held to be responsible for unexplained noises (such as rappings)

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Synonyms for poltergeist


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One of the tricks a poltergeist is known for is making "knocking" noises, so it will come as no surprise to learn that the word poltergeist translates literally from German as knocking spirit. The German verb poltern means "to knock, and "Geist" is the German word for "spirit." Another "Geist" descendant in English is "zeitgeist" ("the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era"). The English word ghost is also related; it descends from the same ancient root that led to "Geist." Although "ghost" has been used in English since before the 12th century, "poltergeist" is a relative newcomer, first appearing as an English word in the middle of the 19th century.

Examples of poltergeist in a Sentence

we thought a poltergeist was knocking dishes off the shelves, but it turned out to just be vibrations from passing trains
Recent Examples on the Web In this horror-comedy, a dead couple haunting their country residence enlist the help of a poltergeist named Beetlejuice to rid their home of the Deetz family. Kathleen Christiansen, orlandosentinel.com, 30 Aug. 2021 There's also Bridgewater Triangle, an area in southeastern Massachusetts that's has allegedly been the site of UFO, Big Foot, giant snake, and poltergeist sightings. Quinci Legardye, Harper's BAZAAR, 29 Aug. 2021 Ed acquiesces, until the church calls them overseas to England to look into the Enfield poltergeist of 1977. Lillian Brown, Vulture, 3 June 2021 In nineteen-thirties London, the Hungarian parapsychologist Nandor Fodor began studying Alma Fielding, a housewife who claimed to be tormented by a poltergeist. The New Yorker, 31 May 2021 The threat narrative was a brilliant bit of framing, turning a story of poltergeist hunters battling a cabal of demon-believers into a national security issue. Jason Colavito, The New Republic, 21 May 2021 Their books wised me up to an invisible poltergeist in world events: the feverish infatuation of one straight man for another. Virginia Heffernan, Wired, 26 Aug. 2020 The officer’s roommate experienced what can only be described as poltergeist phenomena—mostly books flying off shelves—serious enough that the police were called. Matt Farwell, The New Republic, 10 Aug. 2020 In the first episode, a traveling salesman documents a poltergeist using his cell phone during his motel stay, but he is soon possessed by the spirit of a murderer – and finds himself in need of an exorcism. Katey Clifford, oregonlive, 12 July 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'poltergeist.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of poltergeist

1848, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for poltergeist

German, from poltern to knock + Geist spirit

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The first known use of poltergeist was in 1848

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Last Updated

9 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Poltergeist.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/poltergeist. Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of poltergeist

: a ghost that makes strange noises and causes objects to move

More from Merriam-Webster on poltergeist

Nglish: Translation of poltergeist for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about poltergeist


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