• 3-minute read
  • 31st October 2016

Ghosts, Bones and Witches: Spooky Phrases for Halloween

OooOooOoo! *rattles chains* OooOOoo! If you speak phantom, you’ll know that meant ‘welcome to our Halloween-themed blogpost’. If not, don’t worry; we’re sticking with English from hereon, as we take a look at some spooky(ish) phrases.

1. Spectral Sayings

As we all know, Halloween is the time of year when the spirits of the dead rise from their graves and go house-to-house haranguing people for candy. Or something like that anyway.

'I have a sweet tooOOooOOth!'
‘I have a sweet tooOOooOOth!’

The point is that ghosts are an integral part of Halloween. But they also pop up in a few common English phrases, such as:

  • ‘Ghost town’ – A ghost town isn’t just a haunted house on a bigger scale. Rather, it’s a town that has been deserted by its residents, leaving it mostly empty.
  • ‘A ghost of a chance’ – If we say that someone doesn’t have ‘a ghost of a chance’ of doing something, we mean that they haven’t even got the slightest chance of success.
  • ‘Give up the ghost’ – To ‘give up the ghost’ is to die or stop functioning. Oddly, we don’t refer to living is ‘holding on to the ghost’, although we might start doing so now.

2. Skeletal Slogans

Slightly more solid than ghosts, but equally spooky, are skeletons! You might have seen one in a laboratory, which is where they hang out in their spare time (fact: skeletons love science).

Just hanging out in the lab, doing some experiments.
Just chilling in the lab, doing some experiments.

As well as being common props in horror films (what kind of dungeon would be complete without one?), skeletons and skulls also feature in a few interesting terms and phrases:

Find this useful?

Subscribe to our newsletter and get writing tips from our editors straight to your inbox.

  • ‘Skeleton in the closet’ – If you have a figurative skeleton in your closet, it means that you have a dark or shameful secret that you’re hiding from the world. If you literally have a skeleton in the closet, that probably counts as a dark secret anyway.
  • ‘Out of your skull’ – To be out of one’s skull is to be heavily intoxicated. On less exciting occasions, you can also be ‘bored out of your skull’.
  • ‘Skeleton key’ – A skeleton key is one that has been modified to open many locks. It’s called this because it has been reduced to its essential parts (which is also where we get phrases like ‘bare bones’ and ‘skeleton crew’).

3. Witchy Words

Finally, what would Halloween be without a bubbling cauldron or two?

Eye of newt and toe of frog...
Double, double toil and trouble… (Photo: Jeff Hitchcock/flickr)

Well, one way to find out would be to start a literal ‘witch hunt’. Figuratively, however, a ‘witch hunt’ is an investigation carried out by an authority to silence dissenting views.

Another phrase in which witches feature is ‘cold as a witch’s caress’ (or, if you prefer, ‘cold as a witch’s tit’). This means ‘very cold’ or ‘chilling’, which doesn’t suggest that witches are especially cuddly.

'Please! I just want a hug! I promise I won't turn you into a frog unless I really have to!'
‘I just want a hug! I won’t turn you into a frog unless I really have to!’

Huh. Between authoritarian purges and frostiness, witches get a pretty terrible deal from the English language. Oh well. Happy Halloween!

Comments (0)

Get help from a language expert.

Try our proofreading services for free.

More Writing Tips?
Trusted by thousands of leading
institutions and businesses

Make sure your writing is the best it can be with our expert English proofreading and editing.