Horripilation: Hair-Raising Stuff!

We all know what it is to have goosebumps.

It refers to the way in which the little hairs on our skin stand on end in response to certain sensations or experiences. It makes our skin tingle and can feel as though something with tiny feet is walking over our skin.

This is called goosebumps because  The term, which reflects the way in which the skin looks like the skin of plucked poultry, goes back to the mid 1800s. Earlier than that, it was referred to as goose-flesh in 1801, goose-skin in 1761, goose’s skin in 1744 and, as far back as the early 1400s, hen-flesh. 

It’s very interesting to see the evolution of the term over time, and then to see it persist for so long now because there really is no better way to describe the appearance of the skin.

Also interesting is the fact that goosebumps also has two other descriptive names: piloerection and horripilation.

Piloerection, meaning the actual standing up of the hair, comes from the same word pilus  and the Latin ‘erectio’  which  is the source of words such as ‘erect’ and ‘erection’, and beyond that needs no further explanation.Horripilation comes from the Latin word ‘horripiliatio’, from horripilāre  which means ‘bristle’. This in itself is a portmanteau of the Latin words horrere meaning ‘shudder’ and pilus meaning ‘hair’.

This makes horripilation a relative of ‘horror’ as they share the same Latin root, although ‘horror’ took another detour and came into English via the French word ‘horreur’.

To refer to something frightening or exciting as ‘hair-raising’ is, therefore, not a metaphor, but is rather a direct description of the physical effects of the experience.  We’ve got the nerdy words to prove it.

Sources:
Macquarie Dictionary
Merriam-Webster.com
Online Etymology Dictionary

Horripilation: it’s hair-raising stuff!
#words #horror #SpookySeason

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