"Dybbuk" is an abbreviation of dibbuk me-ru'aḥ ra'ah ("a cleavage of an evil spirit"), or dibbuk min ha-hiẓonim ("dibbuk from the outside"), which is found in man. "Dybbuk" comes from the Hebrew word "דיבוק," which means the act of sticking from the root "דבק," which means cleave.
The term first appears in a number of sixteenth-century writings, though it was ignored by mainstream scholarship until Ansky's play The Dybbuk popularized the concept in literary circles. Earlier accounts of possession (such as that given by Josephus) were of demonic possession rather than that by ghosts. These accounts advocated orthodoxy among the populace as a preventative measure. For example, it was suggested that a sloppily made mezuzah or entertaining doubt about Moses' crossing of the Red sea opened one's household to dybbuk possession. Very precise details of names and locations have been included in accounts of dybbuk possession. Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe (1887–1979) advocated psychiatry as a cure.
There are other forms of soul transmigration in Jewish mythology. In contrast to the dybbuk, the Ibbur (meaning "impregnation") is a positive possession, which happens when a righteous soul temporarily possesses a body. This is always done with consent, so that the soul can perform a mitzvah.