12 “Scary” Words For Every Spooky Feeling

As the weather turns colder and Halloween approaches, folks get excited for fall treats like pumpkin spice everything and warm sweaters. But there is another side to the autumnal season. The days get darker and gloomier and there is a spooky feeling in the air. Spooky is not the only word we can use to describe things that scare us. Read on discover the many mysterious ways to talk about things that go bump in the night.

bloodcurdling

When you’re afraid, you feel it in your whole body—you get goosebumps, you tremble, your heart pounds. It is this sentiment that is expressed in the word bloodcurdling, an adjective meaning “arousing terror; horrifying.” The word curdle means “coagulate, congeal.” In other words, you are so afraid that your blood stops running in your body.

 

  • My mother let out a bloodcurdling scream when she saw the mouse run across the kitchen floor.

As you can see in this example, bloodcurdling is most often used to describe a scream or other sound of terror.

horripilation

Another example of a term that touches on the bodily nature of fear is horripilation [ haw-rip-uhley-shuhn ]. Horripilation is a noun that means “a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.; goose bumps.” This is a medical term for the phenomenon.

 

  • Sarah noted her horripilation and hoped that no one else would pick up on her fear of the abandoned house.

The word horripilation comes from the Latin horripilāre meaning “to become bristly.”

 

What gives you more goose bumps: ghosts, ghouls, or goblins? Learn more about what each one is to find out. 

macabre

One of the more sophisticated words for describing a scary phenomenon is macabre [ muhkah-bruh ]. Macabre is an adjective that means “gruesome and horrifying.” The origin of the word is uncertain, but it is closely connected with the medieval motif of the danse macabre, or dance of death. In the danse macabre people dressed up as corpses or skeletons.

 

  • When the bloody battle was finally finished, the warriors took in the macabre sight.

tenebrous

Another advanced vocabulary term for describing a spooky, scary scene is tenebrous [ tenuh-bruhs ]. Tenebrous is an adjective meaning “dark; gloomy; obscure.”

 

  • The travelers set out into the tenebrous night without even the moon to help guide their way.

Another word that shares a root with tenebrous is Tenebrae, a ceremony in the Roman Catholic Church where “the Crucifixion is commemorated by the gradual extinguishment of candles.” The word Tenebrae literally means “darkness” in Latin.

dreadful

The adjective dreadful has a variety of meanings, one of which is “causing great dread, fear, or terror; terrible.” Dread means “terror or apprehension as to something in the future.” In other words, dread is the feeling you have when you are expecting or waiting for something bad to happen.

 

  • As the sailors rushed to batten down the hatches, the dreadful storm threatened on the horizon.

The word dreadful appears in the somewhat antiquated British expression penny dreadful, meaning “a cheap, sensational novel of adventure, crime, or violence.”

 

Learn how to articulate the difference between terror and horror.

uncanny

Something that has scared humans throughout history is the specter of the unknown or supernatural. One word to describe these phenomena is uncanny, an adjective meaning “mysterious; arousing superstitious fear or dread; uncomfortably strange.”

 

  • I couldn’t shake the uncanny feeling that someone was watching me.

The expression uncanny is found in the expression uncanny valley meaning “a psychological concept that describes the feelings of unease or revulsion that people tend to have toward artificial representations of human beings, as robots or computer animations, that closely imitate many but not all the features and behaviors of actual human beings.” A good example of the uncanny valley can be found in the 2019 film adaptation of Cats, as the human-feline CGI made a lot of people really uncomfortable.

ghastly

Another ghost-adjacent term for scary is ghastly [ gast-lee ], “shockingly frightful or dreadful, horrible.” The word can also be used to mean “resembling a ghost.”

 

  • The detective inspector grimly inspected the ghastly scene of the crime.

The word ghastly ultimately comes from the Middle English gast, meaning “afraid.”

 

Add to your scary words repository with these perfectly frightening words perfect for Halloween.

boggle

The word boggle is not only the name of a fun board game. Boggle is also a verb meaning “to start or jump with fear, alarm, or surprise.”

 

  • We boggled at our own shadows in the dark and spooky corridor.

While the origin of the word boggle is not certain, it is thought to perhaps come from the word bogle meaning “a bogy; specter,” also known as a hobgoblin or evil spirit.

skrik

Our next word for scare comes to us from South Africa. Skrik [ skrik ] is a noun meaning “a sudden fright or panic.”

 

  • The undertaker got a skrik when he heard something moving around inside the coffin.

Skrik comes from the Dutch schrik, meaning “fright.”

grisly

One of the oldest words in our list is grisly [ griz-lee ], an adjective that means “causing a shudder or feeling of horror; horrible; gruesome.”

 

  • You may not want to watch this part of the operation; it is pretty grisly.

A common mistake people make is to confuse grisly and grizzly, meaning “somewhat gray; grayish.” The words have different roots and are not synonyms.

eerie

The word eerie [ eer-ee ] sounds a bit like the sound a spooky ghost might make. It’s fitting, then, that the word means “uncanny, so as to inspire superstitious fear; weird.”

 

  • The abandoned parking lot was eerie at this time of night, so Khalid walked quickly to his car.

Eerie comes from the Old English earg, meaning “cowardly.” Despite this, the word is not pejorative in the same way the synonym weird is.

grotesque

Something that is grotesque may give you a fright. Grotesque means “odd or unnatural in shape, appearance, or character; fantastically ugly or absurd; bizarre.”

 

  • Everyone was shocked at the mayor’s grotesque, inappropriate behavior toward his staff.

The word grotesque comes from the Italian grottesca. During the Renaissance, gargoyle-like decorations were found in ancient Roman ruins known as grottes, from which we ultimately get the word.

If you haven’t been scared off already by all this spooky vocabulary, you can test your knowledge of it with our short (and not that scary) quiz here. Feel like you want to review these terms? You can do that with our word list here—and then come back to test your knowledge!

 

Like the chilly vibe from these words? Instead of letting it wither away, consider entering our Scary Story Opener Writing Contest!