épouvantail (nf)

  1. objet, mannequin disposé dans les champs, dans les arbres, pour effrayer les oiseaux et les faire fuir (scarecrow)
  2. familièrement personne présentant un aspect extérieur repoussant (bogey, bugbear)
  3. quelqu’un ou quelque chose qui effraie sans raison (fright)

For some reason we were talking about scarecrows or épouvantails at the French conversation group last night. It’s not a word that comes up in conversation very often, but I like the sound of it.

Related words include:

  • épouvantable = terrible, appalling, dreadful
  • épouvantablement = terribly, appallingly, dreadfully
  • épouvante = terror, fear
    – saisi d’épouvante = terror-stricken
    – roman/film d’épouvante = horror story/film

Words for scarecrow in other languages include:

  • Chinese – 稻草人 (dào​cǎo​rén​) = “straw man”
  • German – Vogelscheuche (bird shooer); Strohmann (straw man); Strohpuppe (straw doll/puppet)
  • Irish – babhdán – also means bogey man
  • Italian – spaventapasseri = “scare sparrows”
  • Japanese – かかし [鹿驚] (kakashi) = “deer surpriser”
  • Spanish – espantapájaros = “bird scarer”
  • Welsh – bwgan brain = “crows bogey/spook”
This entry was posted in Chinese, English, Etymology, French, German, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Language, Spanish, Welsh, Words and phrases.

15 Responses to Épouvantail

  1. prase says:

    In Czech: strašák. Derived from the noun strach = “fear” or verb strašit = “to haunt”, “to terrify”. A little bit far-fetched, but still fairly literal translation would be “terrorist”.

  2. Daniel says:

    In Hebrew: דחליל (dahlil), from an ancient semitic root דחל (dhl) related to fear.

  3. Dennis King says:

    Despite the entry in the Collins dicco, the more common Irish term is “taibhse préachán” (= ghost/spectre of crows).

  4. Christopher Miller says:

    This word comes up a lot in political discourse in Canada, especially when questions of national unity/Quebec separatism come up. It often appears in a formula along the lines of “les fédéralistes ont sorti l’épouvantail de X”. The closest English equivalents in this kind of usage would be “bring up the bogeyman/spectre of X”.

    All these “bogeyman/bwgan/bugbear” equivalents bring me full circle to my first contact with Omniglot. I had always believed, from what I had first heard or read way way back, that the name bogeyman originally came from “the Bugis pirates” of the East Indies (a factoid which I have since found out is probably is a later folk etymology grafted onto a word of apparently much older and murkier lineage, with cognates in several other west European languages (cf. bwgan above).

    A year or two ago, for some reason, I was again reminded of bogeymen and “the Bugis pirates” and an online search for “Bugis” or “Buginese” brought me eventually to Omniglot and the article about Buginese script. I thought it was an exceptionally pretty looking script, which reminded me of gentle waves. Appropriate, I thought, for a seagoing people!

    This turned out to be just the first step in a series of coincidences that came together last fall and resulted in a first paper that I am finishing just now on the early Gujarati origins of Buginese script and several other scripts of Indonesia and the Philippines. I’m sending it in to the Berkeley Linguistics Society Proceedings editors sometime between now and next Tuesday (the deadline).

  5. michael farris says:

    Polish ‘strach na wróble’ (frigt(ener) for sparrows)

  6. michael farris says:

    Also, I just checked for Esperanto, apparently it’s ‘birdotimigilo’ (bird frightener).

  7. Drabkikker says:

    Vogelverschrikker ‘bird scarer’, in Dutch.

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Boggart and bogle are a couple more cousins of the bogey and bugbear.

  9. Christopher Miller says:

    Bug as well, apparently, according to an interesting entry at etymonline.com.

  10. Qcumber says:

    In Tagalog (Philippines), the hyperonym is _panákot_ < pang- [instrumental prefix] + tákot_ "fear". It has several hyponyms, most of them archaic, e.g. _palipád_ "make fly" from _lipád_ "fly".
    In 20th literature, authors tend to make a calque of the
    English compound by adding _uwák_ "crow": _panákot-uwák_ "scarecrow".

  11. TJ says:

    In Arabic:


    Comes from the verb faza` (or the root F-Z-`), which means “to fear”
    The noun itself has meaning like: the thing that scares.

  12. LAttilaD says:

    Hungarian: madárijesztő (bird frightener).

  13. Petréa Mitchell says:

    Also, as I was just reminded when I came across it in a book, bugaboo.

  14. Yenlit says:

    Came across a word I’d never heard before: “worricow” – a Scottish variant on the scarecow/bogy/hobgoblin theme.

  15. In Portuguese we have “Espantalho” which derives from the verb “espantar” (to scare).

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