It makes my flesh crawl: idioms for Halloween

Martin Deja/Moment/Getty Images

by Liz Walter

The evening of October 31st usually sees hordes of children dressed up as ghosts, skeletons or other scary figures, excitedly collecting mountains of sweets on their ‘trick-or-treat’ expeditions. Covid-19 has paused many of these activities, but I hope you will still enjoy this post on spooky idioms!

We’ll start with some general idioms about fear. If something makes you feel extremely frightened, you can say it scares/frightens you to death or that it makes your blood run cold:

The thought of giving a speech to 500 people scares me to death!

The look in his eyes made my blood run cold.

There are several phrases that describe the uncomfortable feeling you get when you have the feeling that danger is near. For instance, you can say that something or someone makes your flesh creep/crawl, or more informally that they give you the heebie-jeebies. You could also say that something sends shivers/chills down your spine:

The sight of snakes makes my flesh crawl.

Being alone in the dark gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The faint noise sent shivers down my spine.

There are many other idioms that use imagery relevant to Halloween. For instance, if we say that a place is as silent/quiet as the grave, we mean that it is completely silent, often in a way that seems rather ominous, and if we say that someone digs their own grave, we mean that they do something that causes bad problems for themselves:

The normally busy restaurant was as silent as the grave.

By refusing to apologize, she dug her own grave.

If someone gives up the ghost, they stop trying to achieve something, and if a machine gives up the ghost, it stops working. In UK English, a ghost/spectre at the feast is a person or thing whose existence spoils an event by reminding you of something unpleasant:

This battery seems to have given up the ghost.

Social care funding was the ghost at the feast of the election campaign.

If someone or something comes back from the dead or rises from the dead, they become successful or popular again after being unsuccessful or unpopular. When people use the phrase over my dead body, they mean that they will fight as hard as they can to prevent something from happening:

After a catastrophic drop in share prices last year, the company seems to have come back from the dead.

They’ll award her the prize over my dead body!

There are lots more idioms containing spooky words – if you like these, perhaps we’ll have another selection next Halloween!

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