11 ways to say ‘mischief’
Mischief Night – the night before Halloween, celebrated with practical jokes and (often to the dismay of the community) minor vandalism – goes by many names, including Goosey Night, Cabbage Night, Gate Night, and Devil’s Night. So what better way to recognize this evening of hijinks than with a list of mischief synonyms?
1. funny business
Depending on how you feel about egging cars and TP’ing (for British reader: toilet papering) neighborhood trees, funny business might seem an entirely apt substitution for mischief … but if you’re the recipient of such ‘funny business’, you might not think so.
Those who find themselves on the receiving end of such mischief might tend towards the more formal ungovernability. Indeed, in several US cities arson has historically been a huge issue on Mischief Night. The city of Detroit declared the nights prior to Halloween ‘Angels’ Night’, during which volunteer patrols walked neighborhoods of the city to discourage arson and other instances of vandalism.
Though this word started life as a dancing reference – ‘to dance or leap in a frolicsome manner’ – the word has come to refer to an illicit or ridiculous activity.
You can always take advantage of shenanigans. Besides being a boatload of fun to pronounce, the word also has the advantage of running the gamut from meaning ‘secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering’ to ‘silly or high-spirited behavior’. So what are you up to? Shenanigans, of course!
5. monkey business
Monkeys, as we’ve previously discussed, tend to get a bad rap in English. There’s also the verb monkey, meaning ‘to behave in a silly or playful way’ or ‘to tamper with’, the latter meaning particularly appropriate to Mischief Night.
No mincing words with this one. If you’re engaging in devilry, you’d most likely be taking part in ‘wicked activity’ or ‘reckless mischief’, but OxfordDictionaries.com notes that you might also be dipping your toes into ‘black magic’ or ‘dealings with the devil’.
No one uses this term anymore; a rare and obsolete term meaning ‘mischief’ or ‘harm’, it gives shenanigans a run for its money in terms of being the most fun to say.
Only used in legal contexts today, this word, meaning ‘to cause injury to’, has a fun, strangely proper sound to it.
A word whose meaning has softened over time, mayhem began as a legal term referring to the crime of ‘maliciously injuring or maiming someone, originally so as to render them defenseless’. The far less severe sense of the word emerged in the US in the 19th century, referring to chaos or confusion, or ‘violent or extreme disorder’. For more words like mayhem, check out ‘Everyday words with legal backgrounds’.
When public figures talk about Mischief Night, they are likely to address it as a public nuisance. In a legal context, nuisance refers to an ‘act which is harmful or offensive to the public or a member of it and for which there is a legal remedy’, but more broadly means a ‘person or thing causing inconvenience or annoyance’.
Much to the delight of unhappy citizens everywhere, it turns out that Old English provides us with the word teen, referring to ‘harm inflicted or suffered’ or ‘injury, hurt, mischief’. Of course, this teen is a completely different word from the more common teen (from thirteen, fourteen, etc.), but the etymological coincidence still stands! That said, ‘Teen Night’ doesn’t do much to capture the devilry and shenanigans that the owners of TP’d houses would probably want to express …
And if you’re thinking about using the adjectival form of mischief, take care to be consistent with your spelling of mischievous!
If you’re looking for more wriguldy-wrag, you can also take our quiz about Mischief Night.