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Coined in the late 1980s or 1990s, of unknown origin, appearing first, without further explanation, in lists of phobias circulating on the Internet. According to a widespread theory the term is supposedly based on Ancient Greek κωλοβαθριστής (kōlobathristḗs, one who goes on stilts) (from κωλόβαθρον (kōlóbathron, stilt), from κῶλον (kôlon, limb) + βάθρον (báthron, something to stand on), allegedly chosen for lack of an obvious Ancient Greek equivalent of "clown", +‎ -phobia (fear of) suffix. If true, the literal meaning of coulrophobia would be "fear of limbs". This theory fails to explain the substitution of ou for o and of lro for lo.



coulrophobia (uncountable)

  1. The fear of clowns.
    • 1999 Condé Nast Traveler 34, p. x.
      [] to develop coulrophobia. On the seventh, clowns from around he world [] congregate at London's Holy Trinity Church for the annual Grimaldi Memorial Service.
    • 2002 Jared Paul Stern, with Paula Froelich and Chris Wilson, "Send out the Clowns", Page Six (NYT)
      Clowns are no laughing matter to Sean "Puffy" Combs. The swaggering rap royal is widely reported to suffer from coulrophobia, an irrational fear of the red-nosed, versized-shoe-wearing, greasepainted circus buffoons.
    • 2003: Andy Field, Graham Hole, How to Design and Report Experiments, p. 257
      5Unfortunately, the first time they attempted the study, the clown accidentally burst one of the balloons. The noise frightened the children and they associated that fear response with the clown. All 15 children are currently in therapy for coulrophobia!
    • 2004, Phineas Mollod & Jason Tesauro, The Modern Lover: A Playbook for Suitors, Spouses & Ringless Carousers, page 39:
      After you plug in your wish list and dating criteria, search results spit out matches; it’s like scanning a room of a thousand and pinpointing the ten who share your favorite author and chronic coulrophobia (fear of clowns).
    • 2006, Crimson de la Voire, Crimson’s Erotica: Volume One — A Collection of Stories About Submission and Pleasure, page 35:
      The ironic twist is that he recently admitted to a possible onset of coulrophobia.

Usage notes[edit]

The term is artificial, coined for inclusion in online "lists of phobias". In the opinion of Online Etymology Dictionary, it "looks suspiciously like the sort of thing idle pseudo-intellectuals invent on the Internet and which every smarty-pants takes up thereafter". OED Online adopted the term in 2010.




  • Douglas Harper (2001–2021) , “coulrophobia”, in Online Etymology DictionaryCoulrophobia looks suspiciously like the sort of thing idle pseudo-intellectuals invent on the internet and which every smarty-pants takes up thereafter; perhaps it is a mangling of Modern Greek klooun "clown," which is the English word borrowed into Greek.”
  • Robertson, John G., An Excess of Phobias and Manias (2003), p. 62.
  • Travis Langley (February 24, 2017) , “The Lost Origin of Coulrophobia, the Abnormal Fear of Clowns”, in Beyond Heroes and Villains[1], Psychology Today (blog), retrieved May 31, 2018.