One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
The disembodied soul of a dead person, especially before the completion of funeral rites and ceremonies allowing it to leave the world of humans as an ancestral spirit, frequently imagined as a ghost tortured by hunger and thirst.
Early 19th century; earliest use found in William Ward (1769–1823), missionary in India and journalist. From Sanskrit preta (participle) departed, deceased, (noun) dead person, spirit of a dead person from pre- to proceed, depart (from pra- forth + i- to go) + -ta, suffix forming participles.
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