Printable Version
Pronunciation: hê-ri-pê-layt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: 1. To experience gooseflesh, skin-creeping, or bristling hair out of fear. 2. To cause goose flesh, the skin to creep, or the hair to bristle out of fear.

Notes: For centuries English has been struggling to express hair standing up from fear; we resort to expressions like gooseflesh, cold chills up the spine, and creepy skin. We resorted to all these phrases when, all along, the medical world has hidden a little gem that resolves this particular expressive problem. Enjoy! The noun from today's word is horripilation [hê-ri-pê-lay-shên] and the adjective, horripilant "causing gooseflesh".

In Play: We have never needed today's Good Word more than we do today: "I still horripilate every time I hear of the catastrophe that the US banking and financial industries have brought to simple mortgages." Don't forget that this word comes replete with a healthy family of useful derivatives: "Nothing horripilates me more than the gratuitous violence of today's horripilant movies and action TV series." We hope you never experience horripilation.

Word History: This word comes from the Latin word horripilatio(n) "bristling", the action of the verb horripilare, composed of horrere "to bristle, stand up" + pilus "hair". No one seems to have a clue as to where horrere came from, though we do know it went into the making of horrible and horror, something that also makes your hair stand on end. The P in pilus should become an F in Germanic languages, which leads us to believe that the same root that produced it also produced German Filz and its English correlate felt. The Latin root, of course, also underlies English depilatory "hair remover". (Today we thank Robert Fitzgerald for suggesting today's desperately needed Good Word, leaving our hair in place in so doing.)

Dr. Goodword,

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