This is the passage I found:

Poltergeist is an old German word meaning "noisy or mischievous ghost." The term is poor bookkeeping though, because it doesn’t specify or come to grips with the true cause of the disturbance.

[Gerald Brittle: The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren; via Google Books]

English is not my first language. I only found the financial meaning of this word, I don't really understand why the author used this word .

  • 4
    This is an odd usage even for the metaphorical use. It usually refers to keeping track of something that needs frequent updates to earlier values. It is leveraging the idea of a running tally.
    – Phil Sweet
    Dec 25, 2022 at 16:13

4 Answers 4


In this sentence, "bookkeeping" is used analogously. It isn't really keeping records financially for an organization, but instead a metaphor of it. What it really means in this context is:

The term is poor documentation.

Another way to write the sentence is:

Poltergeist is an old German word meaning ‘noisy or mischievous ghost.' The term is poor documentation, because it doesn’t specify or come to grips with the true cause of the disturbance.

  • 7
    I agree that it's a metaphor (and a pretty poor one). But I don't agree that it is anything to do with "documentation" - that makes no sense to me in context. I think it's more about "getting the answer to come out right", or "adding up".
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 25, 2022 at 14:34
  • ... 'a mangled etymology ...'? (But then what isn't?) Dec 26, 2022 at 16:51
  • I agree: I feel the meaning is likely along the lines of "citing a poltergeist as the cause of a disturbance is a poor way to record the facts." You could say similar about citing 'old age' on a death certificate; it it too vague to address the root cause, so it is bad bookkeeping. It's not about "adding up" or coming to some answer, it's about recording the precise facts rather than a mere handwave. Bookkeeping is about recording facts, not about evaluating them. Dec 27, 2022 at 3:15

This word is used metaphorically in this context. In the same way as keeping books establishes a record from which a precise picture of some events can be obtained, a word can suggest more or less vividly the thing it names. For instance the word "seat" as referring to an armchair is far less descriptive than "armchair".

This analogical use of "bookkeeping" is personal, due to an author, or perhaps already used by several; it is not defined in dictionaries; you might find it to your taste and use it yourself or you might not.

  • That word is not used metaphorically; it's used at best 'oddly'. Who cares about the difference please explain it? Dec 27, 2022 at 1:20

Use of the term is both odd and poor. A metaphor should have a meaning that is clear to the reader, and I have no idea what the author meant.

  • I guess because this is an old book so that's why i have never seen such phrase before .
    – Mike
    Dec 27, 2022 at 10:00

Poltergeist might be an old German word meaning 'noisy or mischievous ghost' to the extent 'noisy' and 'mischievous' were directly comparable. Are they, with or without any suggestion of 'ghosts'?

The term seems to be poor bookkeeping, as it doesn’t specify or come to grips with any cause of disturbance.

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