"Just ghost"

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The verb "ghost" to mean "leave a social event without announcing one's departure" has apparently been around for a while, but I wasn't aware of it until a couple of weeks ago when I happened upon this 7/3/13 article in Slate by Seth Stevenson:

"Don’t Say Goodbye:  Just ghost."

Because I have often felt awkward and embarrassed about wanting to leave a social gathering before bidding adieu at least to the hosts, but not finding a suitable moment to say goodbye, I immediately became enamored of this new (to me) verb because it sanctioned an impulse that I was previously unable to act upon.

Here are three key paragraphs from Stevenson's article:

Ghosting—aka the Irish goodbye, the French exit, and any number of other vaguely ethnophobic terms—refers to leaving a social gathering without saying your farewells. One moment you’re at the bar, or the house party, or the Sunday morning wedding brunch. The next moment you’re gone. In the manner of a ghost. “Where’d he go?” your friends might wonder. But—and this is key—they probably won’t even notice that you’ve left.

Yes, I know. You’re going to tell me it’s rude to leave without saying goodbye. This moral judgment is implicit in the culturally derogatory nicknames ghosting has been burdened with over the centuries. The English have been calling it French leave since 1751, while the French have been referring to filer à l'anglaise since at least the late 1800s. As with other cross-Channel insults—depending on your side, a condom is either a French letter or la capote anglaise, syphilis the French disease or la maladie anglaise—the idea is to pin unsavory behavior on your foes.

Here in the U.S., the most-used term seems to be Irish goodbye, which, due to unfortunate historical stereotyping, hints that the vanished person was too tipsy to manage a proper denouement. Dutch leave is a less common, but apparently real, variant. (I picture someone taking a couple pulls on a vaporizer, scarfing too much bitterballen, and stumbling into the night.) And then there’s the old, presumably Jewish joke: WASPs leave and don’t say goodbye, Jews say goodbye and don’t leave.

Ben Zimmer called to my attention the fact that an associated sense of "ghost," meaning "abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online," won in the Most Likely to Succeed category in the 2015 ADS WOTY voting.  Ben also mentioned an article titled "Ghosting" on the newer dating-related sense of "ghosting" by Jane Solomon of Dictionary.com (who also works with him on the "Among the New Words" feature for American Speech).

It's not very honorable to ghost someone you've been dating for months.  On the other hand, it may be the only half-dignified way to get out of a relationship that is no longer bringing pleasure to either of the parties involved.


  1. JB said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 5:42 am

    "Take French Leave": whereas the French say "Filer à l'anglaise"

  2. CL Thornett said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 5:56 am

    I thought 'French leave' was equivalent to 'AWOL' or 'desertion', rather than leaving a social event, but I see the SOED defines it as 'unannounced or unauthorized departure (or other action)'. Is 'ghost' confined to social or relationship contexts?

  3. richardelguru said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 6:31 am

    Sorry for this, but you did just make me relive my English Schoolboy Days…

    "Why do French policemen have Roman numerals on their helmets?"
    "Well, they'd look stupid with French letters." [Universal groan]

  4. Rose Eneri said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 7:43 am

    I could not agree more with Mr. Stevenson. I've even ghosted my own parties when guests stayed beyond my bed time.

  5. Joe G. said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 8:07 am

    Has anyone cataloged those symmetrical cross-channel euphemisms in greater detail? I'm Google-stumped

  6. ajay said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 8:32 am

    Yes, I'm also surprised to see "French leave" used in a social context; normally I'd expect to see it used in a work/duty sense, where you're either sneaking out of work early or simply not turning up.

  7. ajay said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 8:33 am

    The opposite of "ghosting" is this tactic, depicted by Gary Larson…

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 8:38 am

    Just for balance, I always thought of "French leave" as applying to social situations, and if I saw it applied to work or military duty or some such, I'd take it as jocular.

  9. anon_mn said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 9:34 am

    I've only ever heard ghost(ing) used to mean "rudely end a relationship by ceasing communication", never "leave a party without saying goodbye". Maybe the latter usage is older? (I'm 25.)

  10. rpsms said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 10:42 am

    The key to overcoming your awkwardness with ghosting is to start with family and then expand from there.

  11. J. Goard said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

    Thirding or fourthing the "abruptly break off contact" sense of ghosting, though I think more of not responding to a one night stand than being a total asshole who abandons a standing relationship.

  12. chips mackinolty said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 2:07 pm

    There is, no doubt, an Italian term for this–but I don't know it. I did it Wednesday evening at a book launch. Left early after the four speakers then started swapping microphones to keep on talking earnestly about art, the universe and the streets. Italian book launches are notorious. I once "ghosted" 40 minutes into 12 speakers for the launch of a minor book written by a journalist that I was half interested in. Blame it on the "orals" that Italian students are required to deliver in exams form senior high school through to university. Drives me mental!

  13. Carlos H said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 3:09 pm

    I've seen "ghosting" being used also with the meaning of suddenly ending a relationship with someone without explanation followed by cutting all contact.

    Here's some usage examples:

  14. Noam said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 3:34 pm

    I find all of these meanings to be odd. Isn't the essential feature of a ghost that it stays after it's supposed to have left? Much more consistent with our usage in college, which was for alums that continued to hang around socially instead of moving on with their lives.

  15. Andrew Usher said,

    July 6, 2017 @ 5:09 pm

    The strange thing is that he seems to think the existence of a specific word for the practice makes it more acceptable.

    Also, these senses of 'ghost' are new to me; I would use 'disappear' and find the connection with ghosts (?) rather a stretch.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  16. Ken said,

    July 7, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    It seems a natural extension of ghosting into a room, which has been in use for some time.

  17. Joseph said,

    July 8, 2017 @ 8:19 am

    I have been guilty of ghosting in the sense of no longer showing up to an event that I had usually attended. I think the problem is I was not sure at the time that I would not be coming back in the future.

  18. ardj said,

    July 9, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

    According to Rey & Chantreau (Robert Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions), filer à l’anglaise is much more recent than the English equivalent: they put it as probably no earlier than 1900 in written citations; though there is also a delightful mention of Zola using ‘pisser à langlaise (in L’Asommoir, which I admit to not having read).
    The English version goes back (OED 2nd ed.) to at least 1771. While many of the usages relate to formal occasions of the kind that Professor Mair describes, both the earliest and later usages allow for its use in all kinds of formal and informal contexts ( and I recall its use in military situations, where either an army or an individual might decamp.)
    Attributed to Chesterfield (1775) is the view it is an aid to community well-being (‘on one person’s leaving the company, the rest might not be disturbed’) as against looking at your watch which does ‘what that piece of politeness was designed to prevent’; and a possible source is found (oddly, also in 1775 but perhaps as an afterthought) in the very formal entrances to French assemblies, as compared by implication with the ease of leaving them.
    Unaccustomed as I am to modern idiom, ‘ghost’ seems to me a hasty and irreverent description for the unfortunate lot of Professor Mair, but ‘twill serve the turn – and even seems quite apposite for chucking a “beloved”, given that the presence seems, to the chucked, to linger..

  19. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

    "the unfortunate lot of Professor Mair"

    I thought that I made it clear that I consider myself fortunate to know this usage.

  20. Adrian said,

    July 10, 2017 @ 5:46 am

    I have started leaving events sometimes without saying goodbye; these tend to be events that either (a) I felt the need to show my face at even though I knew I wouldn't fit in, or (b) turned out to be much more boring or irrelevant than I'd expected.

    I'm not sure this behaviour needs sanctioning or how giving it a name could sanction it.

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