I learned a new word just now, from Theo Tait’s LRB review of two books on ghosts:
The will to ghost-belief is very strong. Clarke cites the interesting case of 50 Berkeley Square, notorious for a century as ‘the most haunted house in London’. It seems to have been lived in by a recluse for a short period. Thereafter a series of scary stories came to be associated with it: a haunted attic; an ‘evil room’; a housemaid struck dead with fright; the wraith of a sobbing child who had died in the nursery; the ghost of a betrayed woman who had thrown herself out of the window; a police notice forbidding anyone to use the upper floor. Clarke sent an email to the current resident, an antiquarian bookseller, and received the following response: ‘There are absolutely no first-hand accounts of anything at all. It’s fiction reversing into reality – similar to what folklorists call ostension.’ (Technically, I think, it’s quasi-ostension – the interpretation of real events according to folkloric or legendary templates: ostension is when people actually act out the folklore.) These fixed units of ghostly narrative seem to circulate endlessly – the body in the basement, the white lady, the hooded monk – just waiting for a suitable place to take up residence: often the same story concerning Anne Boleyn or the headless horseman or whoever will be found in various locations. And fiction constantly gives the ghost-seers new material. For instance, belief in spirit possession had all but died out in America before The Exorcist came out; now it’s widespread. As the ghost-hunter Harry Price put it: ‘People don’t want the debunk, they want the bunk.’
(Great quote in the last line!) The OED entry for ostension, though updated as of September 2004, does not include this sense; they have only “The action of showing, exhibiting, or making manifest[…] (Now rare)” and “Christian Church. The showing of the consecrated elements to the congregation at the Eucharist; (also) a similar display of some other object of veneration. Now rare (hist.).”
I also learned a new word in Russian, непреложный [neprelozhny] ‘immutable’ (often used in conjunction with закон ‘law’ or истина ‘truth’); I wouldn’t mention it except that in going through the citations in the Национальный корпус русского языка (Corpus of the Russian Language) I discovered that Sukhanov (see this LH post) was addicted to it; in his Записки о революции (Notes on the Revolution) he uses it dozens of times: “Я не поверил ни им, ни непреложным фактам”; “считаясь с непреложностью силы вещей”; “это был исконный, непреложный крик хозяина русской земли”; “Хлеб было непреложное требование авангарда”; “Ведь каждый самый непреложный физический закон может быть парализован в конечном счете иными факторами”; “столкнемся с самыми непреложными доказательствами”; “Ибо в непреложных условиях революции”; “С другой стороны, не все высказанное им может претендовать на роль непреложной истины”; “Я предлагал экономистам выступить на совещании с выяснением экономической конъюнктуры и с непреложным выводом: долой коалицию!”; etc. etc. He must have used it more often than anyone else in the history of Russian. I love finding out things like that, and it’s yet another example of what a wonderful thing the Corpus is.