1. a play (1881) by Henrik Ibsen.


  1. the soul of a dead person, a disembodied spirit imagined, usually as a vague, shadowy or evanescent form, as wandering among or haunting living persons.
  2. a mere shadow or semblance; a trace: He’s a ghost of his former self.
  3. a remote possibility: He hasn’t a ghost of a chance.
  4. (sometimes initial capital letter) a spiritual being.
  5. the principle of life; soul; spirit.
  6. Informal. ghost writer.
  7. a secondary image, especially one appearing on a television screen as a white shadow, caused by poor or double reception or by a defect in the receiver.
  8. Also called ghost image. Photography. a faint secondary or out-of-focus image in a photographic print or negative resulting from reflections within the camera lens.
  9. an oral word game in which each player in rotation adds a letter to those supplied by preceding players, the object being to avoid ending a word.
  10. Optics. a series of false spectral lines produced by a diffraction grating with unevenly spaced lines.
  11. Metalworking. a streak appearing on a freshly machined piece of steel containing impurities.
  12. a red blood cell having no hemoglobin.
  13. a fictitious employee, business, etc., fabricated especially for the purpose of manipulating funds or avoiding taxes: Investigation showed a payroll full of ghosts.

verb (used with object)

  1. to ghostwrite (a book, speech, etc.).
  2. to haunt.
  3. Engraving. to lighten the background of (a photograph) before engraving.
  4. Informal.
    1. to suddenly end all contact with (a person) without explanation, especially in a romantic relationship:The guy I’ve been dating ghosted me.
    2. to leave (a social event or gathering) suddenly without saying goodbye:My friend ghosted my birthday party.
  5. Digital Technology. to remove (comments, threads, or other digital content) from a website or online forum without informing the poster, keeping them hidden from the public but still visible to the poster.

verb (used without object)

  1. to ghostwrite.
  2. to go about or move like a ghost.
  3. (of a sailing vessel) to move when there is no perceptible wind.
  4. to pay people for work not performed, especially as a way of manipulating funds.
  5. Informal.
    1. to suddenly end all contact with a person without explanation, especially in a romantic relationship:They dated for a month and then she ghosted.
    2. to leave a social event or gathering suddenly without saying goodbye:I’m getting tired so I think I might just ghost.
  6. Digital Technology. to remove comments, threads, or other digital content from a website or online forum without informing the poster, keeping them hidden from the public but still visible to the poster.


  1. fabricated for purposes of deception or fraud: We were making contributions to a ghost company.
  1. give up the ghost,
    1. to die.
    2. to cease to function or exist.


  1. the disembodied spirit of a dead person, supposed to haunt the living as a pale or shadowy vision; phantomRelated adjective: spectral
  2. a haunting memorythe ghost of his former life rose up before him
  3. a faint trace or possibility of something; glimmera ghost of a smile
  4. the spirit; soul (archaic, except in the phrase the Holy Ghost)
  5. physics
    1. a faint secondary image produced by an optical system
    2. a similar image on a television screen, formed by reflection of the transmitting waves or by a defect in the receiver
  6. See ghost word
  7. Also called: ghost edition an entry recorded in a bibliography of which no actual proof exists
  8. Another name for ghostwriterSee ghostwrite
  9. (modifier) falsely recorded as doing a particular job or fulfilling a particular function in order that some benefit, esp money, may be obtaineda ghost worker
  10. give up the ghost
    1. to die
    2. (of a machine) to stop working


  1. See ghostwrite
  2. (tr) to haunt
  3. (intr) to move effortlessly and smoothly, esp unnoticedhe ghosted into the penalty area

Old English gast “soul, spirit, life, breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon,” from Proto-Germanic *ghoizdoz (cf. Old Saxon gest, Old Frisian jest, Middle Dutch gheest, Dutch geest, German Geist “spirit, ghost”), from PIE root *gheis- “to be excited, amazed, frightened” (cf. Sanskrit hedah “wrath;” Avestan zaesha- “horrible, frightful;” Gothic usgaisjan, Old English gæstan “to frighten”). This was the usual West Germanic word for “supernatural being,” and the primary sense seems to have been connected to the idea of “to wound, tear, pull to pieces.” The surviving Old English senses, however, are in Christian writing, where it is used to render Latin spiritus, a sense preserved in Holy Ghost. Modern sense of “disembodied spirit of a dead person” is attested from late 14c. and returns the word toward its ancient sense.

Most Indo-European words for “soul, spirit” also double with reference to supernatural spirits. Many have a base sense of “appearance” (e.g. Greek phantasma; French spectre; Polish widmo, from Old Church Slavonic videti “to see;” Old English scin, Old High German giskin, originally “appearance, apparition,” related to Old English scinan, Old High German skinan “to shine”). Other concepts are in French revenant, literally “returning” (from the other world), Old Norse aptr-ganga, literally “back-comer.” Breton bugelnoz is literally “night-child.” Latin manes probably is a euphemism.

The gh- spelling appeared early 15c. in Caxton, influenced by Flemish and Middle Dutch gheest, but was rare in English before mid-16c. Sense of “slight suggestion” (in ghost image, ghost of a chance, etc.) is first recorded 1610s; that in ghost writing is from 1884, but that term is not found until 1919. Ghost town is from 1908. To give up the ghost “die” was in Old English. Ghost in the machine was Gilbert Ryle’s term (1949) for “the mind viewed as separate from the body.”

In addition to the idiom beginning with ghost

  • ghost town

also see:

  • Chinaman’s (ghost of a) chance
  • give up the ghost
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