Feeling ferly? Five alternative words for ‘scary’
It’s the most terrifical time of year…
As you work on making yourselves look appropriately petrifying, we’ve plundered the pages of the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary for some historical synonyms for ‘scary’. There are some wonders, from fleysome to formidolous, but here are our favourites.
Buggish, meaning ‘causing or intended to cause fear or dread’ comes from an early sense of the word bug, which is defined as ‘an imaginary evil spirit or creature; a bogeyman. Also: an object or source of (esp. needless) fear or dread; an imaginary terror.’
By the time the sense of ferly as something ‘dreadful, frightful, terrible’ emerged, the word was also being used to denote something ‘strange, wonderful, wondrous, marvellous’, and from the 1400s was being used to describe something ‘wonderfully great’. It is not the only word to perform a linguistic back flip in this way (we’re looking at you, terrific).
Meaning ‘frightful, terrible’, epouventable comes from Latin, and reaches English via Old French. This word comes from ex (out) + pavēre (to be in a fright). An early written use of ‘epouventable’ comes from a translation of The history of Jason by Raoul Le Fevre, printed by William Caxton in 1477, and refers to a ‘grete espouentable dragon’.
The forerunner of our well-known friend, ghastly, ghastful is defined as ‘dreadful, frightful, terrible’. This word comes from the verb gast, meaning ‘to frighten, alarm, scare, terrify’, which appears to have the same linguistic derivation as ‘ghost’.
Since the 1800s at least, stout has been used to refer to a person ‘inclined to corpulence’. Once, though, if someone thought you were stout, you would have been ‘formidable, menacing; terrible in appearance’. This puts a new spin on the idea of Winnie the Pooh performing his morning stoutness exercises. Perhaps instead of trying to work off all that honey, he was attempting to make himself into a rather more fearsome bear.
So, once you have completed your stoutness exercises on Halloween, and are dressed up in your epouventable dragon costume, you’ll be ready for the first knock at your door. And when the children in their ferly costumes cry ‘Trick or Treat?’, you can treat them to a new word to add to their vocabulary.