What does the phrase “to make one’s hair stand on end” mean and Where does it come from?

The phrase “to make one’s hair stand on end” means: To frighten or terrify; to cause one to become rigid with fear; to scare the pants off one.

This might almost pass as a literal condition, because when one is suddenly terrified the hair on one’s head tends to rise, or feels as if it does, like the fur of a cat or the mane of a dog.

Even a baldheaded man feels a prickling of the scalp from a sudden terror or fright.

Undoubtedly the condition was recognized in early days, but the earliest English record is not found before 1530.

Occurring in John Palsgrave’s Lesclarcissement de la Langue Francoyse it may be, in fact, a translation of the French, faire dresser les cheveux, “to make the hair stand erect.”

But Palsgrave’s line is: “When I passed by the churche yarde my heares stode upright for feare.”

Thereafter many writers took the metaphor to their bosom.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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