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ハロウィーンの語彙: Spooky Idioms and Ghostly Phrases

2017.10.26

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Today was the beginning of our Halloween lessons at Fujisawa Berlitz, all the kids are dressed up and I am enjoying the trick-or-treating!

In honor of Halloween, we have prepared a short guide through the darkest parts of English vocabulary.  Take a deep breath, because we are going to take a closer look into dusty pages of our English dictionary in search for Halloween vocabulary, and discuss spooky idioms and ghostly phrases, all of which, of course, include Halloween imagery.

How do we describe things at Halloween?

Did you know that terrible is used to describe something extremely bad, and terrific, though similar in form, means marvelous? However, both, horrible and horrific are scary words.  Horrible simply means awful, and when you describe something as horrific, you are saying that is really frightening and upsetting.

Did you know that the word haunted first appears in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream? This play is filled with ghosts, spirits, fairies, and other otherworldly creatures that wander around.

Adjectives such as scary, creepy, and spooky are regularly used to describe something frightening.  However, there some nuances in their meanings.

If you describe something as creepy, in addition to being frightened, you are also implying that you are feeling rather nervous.  Also, don’t forget that spooky is always related to something supernatural.

For instance, if you hear about a spooky old house, then, this house is most probably occupied by ghosts and other supernatural beings.  In other words, it is haunted.

A person can be haunted, too.  Yet, it doesn’t mean that the person is bothered by ghosts.  On the contrary, a haunted person is someone who is sad or upset, that is, bothered by thoughts.

Cats, bats, owls, and rats

  • Curiosity killed the cat

How come this happened when it is widely known that cats have nine lives? This phrase means that if you are too curioius, you will get into trouble.  Apparently, the Internet’s favorite animal acted inquisitive and got into trouble.



The saying has been present for centuries, although it first went on in a slightly different form: care killed the cat.  However, at the time when the expression was coined, care used to mean a big worry.  Obviously, being overly concerned over some issues is by no means good.

Today’s form stands as a warning: if you want to avoid dangerous situations, then you should control your strong desires to know everything, especially on Halloween.

  • Like a bat out of hell

Once upon a time all the bats were imprisoned in Hell.  Then, one day, the gate was left open, and they all escaped.  Even today, bats have wings like the devil.

At least, this is how the story goes.  The imagery is vivid, and it’s easy to make a connection with the saying and its intended meaning.  If you run away from something quickly and without looking back, then you’re running like a bat out of hell.

  • A night owl

Anyone who either stays up late or regularly works at night is a night owl.  This expression has its roots in the well-known habit of owls.  Namely, owls are nocturnal beings, that is, they are active at night.  Because of its mystical behavior, the owl is considered a symbol of Halloween.

Are you a night owl? Or, a morning person?

  • Like a rat jumping from a sinking ship

While it is true that Halloween is a night when all sorts of weird occurrences may take place, it is by no means allowed to act like a rat jumping from a sinking ship.  In other words, everyone is trying to escape and get away.  if you notice that some extraordinary events are rising, deal with them with courage and decision.

Ghosts, skeletons, and witches

  • Skeleton in the closet

There comes a time when some hidden truths must be revealed, no matter how shocking they are.  To put it simply, we all have skeletons in our closets.  This phrase means that someone has dark secrets that they are hiding.

It is not difficult to see why skeleton is used in this phrase.  It is gruesome, savage, sickening.  The father of mystery, Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story The Black Cat creates astonishing imagery and shows us how it looks like when the truth finally comes to surface.

“Gentlemen, I delight to have allayed your suspicions”, and here, through the mere frenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife of my bosom.  The wall fell bodily.  The corpse, already greatly decayed, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators.”

  • Pale as a ghost

Sometimes, it is fully acceptable to show that you are so afraid that you turn white, especially on the evening when spooky stories are being told and when ghosts and goblins are freely wandering around.  If you notice that a friend of yours is pale as a ghost, most certainly, he experienced some frightening moments.  Remember, a friend in need is a friend indeed.

  • Witch hunt

Salem, Massachusetts was once the most frightening place on the planet.

From February 1692 to May 1693, twenty women were accused of witchcraft, persecuted and sentenced to death.  This means that the phrase witch hunt once meant a true search for witches.

Of course, witches do not exist.

Today’s witch hunts are unfair persecutions of some individuals or a group of people.  The modern meaning of the phrase was first recorded in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia.

What about you? Have you ever heard of a modern witch hunt? Do you assume that someone has a skeleton in the closet? Don’t be afraid, share!

Don’t forget that Halloween is just about the perfect time for dealing with the darkest human fears.


*many thanks to Saundz.com

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