Word of the Day



an empty pumpkin with a face cut into it and a light inside that can be seen through the holes, usually made for Halloween

Origin and usage

The term jack-o’-lantern originates from early 17th century. It was originally known as a ‘Will with the wisp’, however, which then became ‘Will-o’-the-wisp’, a wisp meaning ‘a handful of hay’ that has been set aflame.


Now a North American tradition associated with the holiday of Halloween, the carving of pumpkins to make jack-o’-lanterns was preceded by the carving of turnips and potatoes in Ireland before the tradition was brought to America. Ireland is also where the folklore of Stingy Jack comes from, and it is this myth that gives jack-o’-lanterns their name.

The story goes that Stingy Jack made several deals with the devil, including asking the devil to turn himself into a coin to pay for Stingy Jack’s drink. True to his name, Stingy Jack decided to keep the coin for himself and put the money into his pocket next to a silver cross, which stopped the devil from changing back to his original form. Stingy Jack eventually freed the devil on the condition that the devil must leave him alone, but when Stingy Jack died several years later, the devil cursed him to roam the darkness of night for all eternity with only a burning coal to light the way. Jack placed this coal into a carved turnip, and from then on this mythological figure was referred to as Jack of the Lantern, eventually becoming jack-o’-lantern.


“She traced a jack-o’-lantern face onto the pumpkin. Then, taking a large kitchen knife, she cut into the pumpkin. When only one eye was carved, there were streams of light. And when she carved the nose, and the smiling mouth, great shafts of light like sunbeams filled the room.”

(David Ray)

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

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Macmillan Dictionary

Macmillan Dictionary

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