The aim of this blog is to serve as a meeting point to those who study or have studied English philology and, more broadly, to all those who love literature and language.

7 Jan 2009


Taking into account the most common meaning of host, i.e. "a person who receives or entertains guests", it is logical to infer the biology concept of host as "an animal or plant on or in which a parasite lives". But, when we switch to its Spanish counterpart expression, we find the term huésped ("Biol. Vegetal o animal en cuyo cuerpo se aloja un parásito"), apparently its opposite idea. The RAE dictionary reflects that use together with those of "Mesonero o amo de posada" and "Persona que hospeda en su casa a otra", besides the most usual sense of "Persona alojada en casa ajena".

It is odd to find two mutually excluding ideas in the same word. The same happens in French with the word hôte. It is also curious to find out that these four terms share etymological roots.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, both host and guest come from the Proto-Indo- European *ghostis, "stranger", although through different routes.

host < "person who receives guests," c.1290, from Old French hoste "guest, host" (12c.), from Latin hospitem (nom. hospes) "guest, host," lit. "lord of strangers," from PIE *ghostis- "stranger"

guest < Old English gæst, giest (Anglian gest) "guest, enemy," the common notion being "stranger," from Proto-Germanic. *gastiz, from PIE base *ghostis "strange".

The same origin is also evident in the Spanish words huésped or hueste (a parallel to the 'host' meaning of "army", "multitude") among others. Their immediate ancestors are in the Latin words hostis "stranger, enemy," and hospes "host," from hosti-potis "host, guest," originally "lord of strangers."

In the subject HISTORIA DE LA LENGUA INGLESA it was presented the problem of cognates in different languages "when trying to establish whether they are inherited from the same ancestor or if they are a consequence of borrowing" and it was stated that "it is very difficult to establish such a basic set of words that are absolutely immune to substitution by loan. The following example presented by Bynon (1981: 269 - 270) is an illustration of this situation. The German term gast ‘guest’, Latin hostis ‘enemy’, and Russian gost ‘guest’ display the typical phonological features of Indo-European origin. In this case it is not clear whether the presence of this term in these three languages is the result of common inheritance or borrowing".


  1. Tenía un ensayo crítico famoso J. Hillis Miller, "The Critic as Host", llevando la contraria a esa idea de que el crítico es una especie de parásito de la literatura.

  2. Y por cierto, si vais a celebrar el cumpleaños o cumplesiglos... aquí hay un enlace útil: How to Host an Edgar Allan Poe Party:
    Felicidades a Poe en todo caso.