Halloween: straddle the broom or shun the revellers? 9 words to savour

Bats in your belfry… Zombies, ghouls and skeletons giving you goosebumps… Halloween is getting increasingly hard to ignore.

Fan or not of fright night, leave the eye of newt and lizard’s leg to simmer in the cauldron then join us on a meander around 9 Halloween-themed words. Poetry is included – you decide whether that’s a trick or a treat.

1. bobbing

Dookie Apple Night, as Halloween was known in Newcastle back in the day: as in many other places, greengrocers set out apples that bobbed in bowls of water. Children (mostly) then tried to get them out with their teeth – no hands or werewolf paws allowed.

Or how about Nut Crack Night 60 miles north in the Cheviot Hills, where nuts were used in games to divine the players’ marriage prospects.

(Credit in both cases to the lovely book “England in Particular: A celebration of the commonplace, the local, the vernacular and the distinctive”.)

We, the Fairies, blithe and antic,
Of dimensions not gigantic,
Though the moonshine mostly keep us,
Oft in orchards frisk and peep us. — Leigh Hunt

2. bloodcurdling

To curdle: a verb you don’t hear so often.

Ketchup bottles will be squirted up hill and down dale to add some gore to the Halloween outfits. All done, of course, in the best possible taste.

(Red blood, blue veins? It’s partly due to how our eyes perceive colour, according to news website Quartz. You’ll also find articles on subjects from lizard blood and malaria to (vein?) efforts to combat ageing.)

In your Halloween travels you may well lose count, of course… of the Count. Where’s my copy of Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel when I need it…? Makes my blood boil.

This, not dwelt in, this haunted,
The country of the proud,
Is curdling to stone, – Léonie Adams

3. dress up

I know (like and trust) a couple of local business owners who – at the drop of a witch’s hat – happily ruffle through their extensive dressing-up box. Halloween is no exception.

In the  process they raise money during community events that bring all sorts of people together… to help future events happen, supporting high-street businesses too. Role models wear all kinds of get-ups.

In the market for a costume of your own? If improvising from your own wardrobe, combined perhaps with a trip to a local charity shop, isn’t for you there’s always online shopping.

Hairy hands, witch mask, decaying zombie. So far so Halloween when you look up adult costumes on Amazon, for example.

Any idea why the line-up includes a Bavarian man costume?

(“How to look good in Lederhosen” – what about that as the title of a TV series?)

That Halloween I wore your wedding dress,
our children spooked & wouldn’t speak for days.
I’d razored taut calves smooth, teased each blown tress,
then–lipsticked, mascaraed, & self-amazed–
shimmied like a starlet on the dance floor. – Michael Waters

4. ghoulish

I’ve heard tell the story of Carly (not her real name) and family viewing a beautiful house. Yes, there’s always a compromise when house hunting. But the grisly murder – the estate agent was honest enough to share the property’s past – was a step too far.

“Carly’s forever telling me she hears something downstairs at night –
‘can you just go and check?’,” her husband said.

“Just imagine how busy I’d be kept in a house with that history.”

(Carly’s father was more optimistic. If they really liked the house, they should go for it. In case of a lingering presence, it would be easy enough to call in an exorcist.)

and because there is no place beyond it,
until creature and ghost are close, – Pauline Hanson

5. shiver

Shiver me timbers. A fine oath that is too.

It appears several times in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, according to phrases.org.uk

Shiver now, ’tis nothing new. – A.E. Housman

As for shivers down the spine, many of us get a kick out of being scared. At least, when the fright is right.

“Whether we love or hate to experience fear, it’s hard to deny that we certainly revere it,” two psychiatrists wrote in an article published this time last year.

“When we are able to recognize what is and isn’t a real threat, relabel an experience and enjoy the thrill of that moment, we are ultimately at a place where we feel in control.”

Something to mull and ponder as you add a blind-worm’s sting to the pot and watch it simmer.

crows flap on my hat rack,
pandemonium at the threshold
as the owls and bats flit in. – Paul Hoover

6. spider
Take a moment and just look at this wonder of creation.

A thing of great beauty – in my humble opinion. Feel free to disagree…

Admittedly I don’t recall the finer details of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I do remember loving the classic of children’s literature when I read it as an adult not so many years back.

As for spiders in the real world — all things in moderation, as my dad used to say. I’m a Celebrity… challenge with a bath full of redbacks? Perhaps not.

I’m all for the occasional Charlotte or Charles minding their own business at a friendly, eight-legged distance. It’s an honour and a pleasure to have you visit.

Once I loved a spider
When I was born a fly,
A velvet-footed spider
With a gown of rainbow-dye. – Vachel Lindsay

7. spooky

The last thing she did
was point
to one corner of the ceiling – Rae Armantrout

Let’s face it, ghosts often get a bad press — that isn’t always deserved.

How about the one that guides a worried-looking Kelsey Grammer (he’s not just about the sitcom Frasier) to rediscover the real meaning of Christmas?

Not least, as writer and designer Doogie Horner reminds us in a HuffPost article, eternal rest is interrupted in the process:

“… the next time you see a ghost in a movie I hope you’ll appreciate how hard he’s working. He could be asleep in his coffin” (…)

“We should all hope our afterlives are half as helpful.”

Helpful as well as friendly, how can we forget Casper.

Bloodcurdling? Hardly.

The kind-hearted spectre not only gave work to many an actor; the film by his name also grossed north of $250 million in sales worldwide, according to imdb.com

That ring of the till may have helped film execs and celebrity agents to stand a round of Death in the Afternoons or Poisoned Apples at a seasonal cocktail party.

For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble. – William Shakespeare

8. witch

There’s plenty of room on the broom. Hop on.

Witches, now there’s a subject.

From the Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts of the seventeenth century to Bewitched, the nose-twitching American hit sitcom about 50 years ago, small wonder that a pointed black hat is a go-to Halloween get-up.

Say witch and a black moggy usually follows.

Now, I’m all for the undercat. Derek, Fudge, Iggy, Noodle, Parker and Sushi – the black cats of family and friends – take note.

While I’ve not walked a mile in their paws (after all, black cats’ own level of concern about their reputation may be minimal) it still strikes me as churlish to equate black cats with bad luck — and worse.

So among the oddness that is often the world of Twitter, #BlackCatDay was bound to catch my eye recently. (915 likes and 298 retweets? I’d be happy with that…)

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble. – William Shakespeare

9. woods

It’s not all teddy bears and picnics.

From Little Red Riding Hood to Beauty and the Beast, the woods have a firm place in our psyches.


Part of the sometime worry about the woods might be the jitters induced in many at the sight of an axe.

The “Here’s Johnny” sketch for instance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, with Jack Nicholson getting the better of that door with his big chopper, is not reassuring.

In that dark forest, lit by one fading ember – Randall Jarrell


So happy Halloween, whether or not you choose to don the mascara, zombie it up and shimmy at a party like the worst of the undead.

Or perhaps, in homage to The Grinch, you’ll turn off all the lights at home off and trick those who knock at your door in search of treats into thinking that you’re out for the evening.

In the dark, on your own. What’s that bump downstairs?  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

(Images from Pixabay, poetry excerpts from the Poetry Foundation.)

You may also be interested in this blog:
Adventures in language: around the world in eight… expressions

*Please don’t hesitate to add a comment about this
Halloween blog below. I’ll be sure to reply. Many thanks.*

8 comments on “Halloween: straddle the broom or shun the revellers? 9 words to savour

  1. Lorraine Forrest-Turner on

    Wow! I’m feeling extremely informed now. I love the photo of the spider. I find them endlessly fascinating.

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment Lorraine. Yes, spiders are mesmerising to watch. (Does that count as mindfulness? I guess so!)

    • Brian McGee on

      You’re welcome Ruth; thanks a lot for your comment. It was fun to research and write. I was pleased to sneak in some poetry too 🙂

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your kind words Sean. If I hear of a spiderkeeper who’s looking for a videographer then I’ll be sure to point them in your direction 🙂


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