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11 May 2009




Dictionary.com defines it as:

"an optical illusion produced by a magic lantern or the like in which figures increase or diminish in size, pass into each other, dissolve, etc"

Michael Quinion has this to say:

"In October 1801, a German showman named Paul Philipsthal placed an advertisement to publicise an event at the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand, London ...... a 'phantasmagoria or, Grand Cabinet of Optical and Mechanical Curiosities'...... Philipsthal's title for his show 'phanasmagoria' was a word he borrowed from "fantasmagorie", by then used for some 20 years in French-speaking Europe for similar exhibitions. This derived from "fantasme", a phantasm, plus possibly the Greek "agora", a place of assembly ...... The popularity of the visual spectacle was so great that the term soon became a generic one for this type of exhibition. It also entered the language in the modern metaphorical sense of a sequence of real or imaginary images like that seen in a dream."

A sketch of Paul Philipsthal's phantasmagoric apparatus is to be seen at

Next time you us the word 'phantasmagoria' in your Paranormal or perhaps in your Suspense story, you can spare a thought for Paul Pipsthal, who originated this rather weird and wonderful word!

*Thanks to Michael Quinion of WORLD WIDE WORDS
World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org