Definition: Goosebumps (caused by cold, by fear, etc)

Pronunciation: Hor-ip-eh-lay-shun


From late latin – horripilationem. A blend of horrere, meaning ‘to bristle’ and pilus, meaning ‘hair’.

Why This Word?

Who knew that there was a proper word for Goosebumps? I certainly didn’t until I heard a speech given by Irish Trade Unionist Billy Hannigan, in which he referred to something that was so fearful that it causes horripilation. Indeed, although the word can be used to describe any appearance of goose-bumps, it is particularly apt when referring to those caused by ‘fear’. After all, the word horripilation shares the same genesis as horror and horrible.

How to use this word: The speech in which I first heard the word is perhaps the best way to introduce a word such as horripilation – or, indeed, any unused word. Quite simply, it caused the people listening to the speech to pause on hearing this new word and then to re-engage with the speech. There is a lesson in this for all public speakers.

I myself see a future for horripilation in the arena of film criticism. Just think of the poster for the future movie ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 11’:

“Reaffirmed my belief in the craft of movie making” – The Evening Standard

“A triumph of the human spirit as it overcomes adversity” – The Daily Gazette

“Caused genuine horripilations” – The Sunday Reader


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Written by Sean Carabini

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union.

Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!


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