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See also: scare-crow



Scarecrows (noun sense 1) in a rice paddy in Japan.
The black tern (Chlidonias niger; middle picture) and the hooded crow (Corvus cornix; bottom picture) were both formerly known as scarecrows (noun senses 5.1 and 5.2).

The noun is derived from scare (to frighten, startle, terrify) +‎ crow (bird of the genus Corvus).[1][2] The word displaced other terms such as bogle (now dialectal, dated), sewel or shewel, and shoy-hoy (perhaps imitative of the cry of crows).

The verb is derived from the noun.[3]



scarecrow (plural scarecrows)

  1. An effigy, typically made of straw and dressed in old clothes, fixed to a pole in a field to deter birds from eating crops or seeds planted there. [from 1530s]
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:scarecrow
    • 1637, Thomas Heywood, The Royall King, and the Loyall Subject. [], London: [] Nich[olas] and John Okes, for James Becket, [], →OCLC, Act III, signature E4, verso:
      VVots thou vvho's returnd, / The unthrift Bonvile, ragged as a ſcarre-crovv, / The VVarres have gnavv'd his garments to the skinne: []
    • 1726, [Daniel Defoe], “Of the Manner of Satan’s Acting and Carrying on His Affairs in This World, and Particularly of His Ordinary Workings in the Dark, by Possession and Agitation”, in The Political History of the Devil, as well Ancient as Modern: [], London: [] T. Warner, [], →OCLC, part II (Of the Modern History of the Devil), page 222:
      [W]e ſet him [the Devil] up like a Scare-Crovv to fright Children and old VVomen, to fill up old Stories, make Songs and Ballads, and in a VVord, carry on the lovv priz'd Buffoonry of the common People; []
    • 1887, Walter Besant, “Of Jack’s Escape”, in The World Went Very Well Then [], volume II, London: Chatto & Windus, [], →OCLC, page 143:
      The things which he had to put on were so old and ragged that they would scarce hold together; and they were so dirty that no ragamuffin of the street would have picked them out of the gutter; no scarecrow in the fields ever had such clothes.
  2. (by extension, derogatory) A person regarded as resembling a scarecrow (sense 1) in some way; especially, a tall, thin, awkward person; or a person wearing ragged and tattered clothes.
    (tall, thin person): Synonym: beanpole
    • 1590, Edmund Spenser, “Book II, Canto III”, in The Faerie Queene. [], London: [] [John Wolfe] for William Ponsonbie, →OCLC, , stanzas 6–7, page 220:
      The ſeely man ſeeing him ryde ſo ranck, / And ayme at him, fell flatt to ground for feare, / And crying Mercy loud, his pitious handes gan reare. // Thereat the Scarcrovv vvexed vvondrous provvd, / Through fortune of his firſt aduenture fayre, / And vvith big thundring voice reuyld him lovvd; []
    • c. 1597 (date written), [William Shakespeare], The History of Henrie the Fourth; [], quarto edition, London: [] P[eter] S[hort] for Andrew Wise, [], published 1598, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene ii]:
      No eye hath ſeene ſuch skarcrovves. Ile not march vvith them through Couentry vvith them, thats flat: []
    • 1625 (first performance), Ben[jamin] Jonson, The Staple of Newes. [], London: [] I[ohn] B[eale] for Robert Allot [], published 1631, →OCLC, Act IV, scene iv, page 61:
      So, a true Souldier, / He is his Countreys ſtrength, his Soueraignes ſafety, / And to ſecure his peace, he makes himſelfe / The heyre of danger, nay the ſubiect of it, / And runnes thoſe vertuous hazards, that this Scarre-crovv / Cannot endure to heare of.
    • 1711 March 21 (Gregorian calendar), [Joseph Addison], “SATURDAY, March 10, 1710–1711”, in The Spectator, number 9; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 124:
      In opposition to this society, there sprung up another composed of scarecrows and skeletons, who, being very meagre and envious, did all they could to thwart the designs of their bulky brethren, whom they represented as men of dangerous principles; []
      The spelling has been modernized.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, “The Reader's Neck Brought into Danger by a Description, His Escape, and the Great Condescension of Miss Bridget Allworthy”, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume I, London: A[ndrew] Millar, [], →OCLC, book I, pages 21–22:
      A Conſultation vvas novv entered into, hovv to proceed in order to diſcover the Mother. A Scrutiny vvas firſt made into the Characters of the female Servants of the Houſe, vvho vvere all acquitted by Mrs. VVilkins, and vvith apparent Merit; for ſhe had collected them herſelf, and perhaps it vvould be difficult to find ſuch another Set of Scarecrovvs.
    • 1838 March – 1839 October, Charles Dickens, “Of the Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall”, in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1839, →OCLC, page 69:
      Obedient to this summons there ranged themselves in front of the schoolmaster's desk, half-a-dozen scarecrows, out at knees and elbows, one of whom placed a torn and filthy book beneath his learned eye.
    • 1887, Walter Besant, “How Jack Came Home Again”, in The World Went Very Well Then [], volume I, London: Chatto & Windus, [], →OCLC, page 246:
      'Why, my friend,' he said, stopping to contemplate the scarecrow, 'where hast thou gotten these rags and this wound?' / 'I have escaped, sir, from a French prison, and have received a hurt on the forehead.'
  3. (dated) Synonym of crow scarer (a farmhand employed to scare birds from the fields)
  4. (figuratively)
    1. Anything that appears terrifying but presents no danger; a paper tiger.
    2. (military, World War II, historical) Military equipment or tactics used to scare and deter rather than cause actual damage.
  5. (Britain, dialectal, obsolete)
    1. The black tern (Chlidonias niger).
    2. The hooded crow (Corvus cornix).

Alternative forms[edit]

Coordinate terms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]



scarecrow (third-person singular simple present scarecrows, present participle scarecrowing, simple past and past participle scarecrowed) (transitive)

  1. To cause (a person, their body, etc.) to look awkward and stiff, like a scarecrow (noun sense 1).
    • 1993, Jeffrey Eugenides, chapter 5, in The Virgin Suicides, New York, N.Y.: Picador, →ISBN, page 224:
      It felt as though the house could keep disgorging debris forever, a tidal wave of unmatched slippers and dresses scarecrowed on hangers, and after sifting through it all we would still know nothing.
    • 2006, Ron S. King, Nowhere Street, page 109:
      [H]is small frame seeming scarecrowed in the over-large black coat.
    • 2007, Dave Bidini, “Freetown”, in Around the World in 57½ Gigs, Toronto, Ont.: McClelland & Stewart, →ISBN, page 266:
      Because it was the end of the dry season, the trees were Seussian, their branches scarecrowing over lawns of brown grass.
    • 2013, Patrick Flanery, “Part I: Shelter”, in Fallen Land, 1st American edition, New York, N.Y.: Riverhead Books, →ISBN, pages 244–245:
      In the mirror on the opposite wall he can see gray half-moons hanging under his eyes, his hair scarecrowing in tufts and waves.
    1. To splay (one's arms) away from the body, like the arms of a scarecrow.
      • 1958 February 17, Frederick Buechner, chapter I, in The Return of Ansel Gibbs, New York, N.Y.: Alfred A[braham] Knopf, published April 1958, →OCLC, page 14:
        With his stiff, awkward body, his knees bent, his arms scarecrowed far to either side, he had acted it all out, had been Adam trembling in the garden of his lost innocence, Moses on Sinai, Jahweh creating the heavens and the earth; []
      • 2010 May 3, Robert N. Chan, “If Pigs Flu”, in The Bad Samaritan, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, →ISBN:
        An arctic wind whooshes down Columbus Avenue like the IRT express, catching her bags, scarecrowing her arms, and threatening to take her broad-brimmed hat downtown.
      • 2013, Tom Benn, “Best Served Cold”, in Chamber Music, London: Jonathan Cape, →ISBN, page 231:
        He scarecrowed his arms. 'Disya belong to mi. Lang time mi wait fa dis. City nuh change.'
  2. To frighten or terrify (someone or something), as if using a scarecrow.
    • 1593, Gabriel Harvey, “An Advertisement for Pap-hatchet, and Martin Mar-prelate”, in Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse, London: [] Iohn Wolfe, →OCLC; republished as John Payne Collier, editor, Pierces Supererogation: Or A New Prayse of the Old Asse. A Preparative to Certaine Larger Discourses, Intituled Nashes S. Fame (Miscellaneous Tracts. Temp. Eliz. & Jac. I; no. 8), [London: [s.n.], 1870], →OCLC, page 72:
      [T]hat old acquaintance, [] is neither lullabied with thy sweete Papp, nor ſcarre-crowed with thy ſower hatchet.
    • 1849 June, “Architecture,—Royal Academy”, in The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal, Scientific and Railway Gazette, volume XII, number 141, London: R. Groombridge and Sons, [], →OCLC, page 164, column 1:
      It has been said of Mr. [Welby] Pugin that he patronises bad drawing, and now we perceive that he patronises very queer perspective, and very bad colouring also; [] Could we fancy that the mode of representation adopted by the latter [Pugin] were so with the intention of scarecrowing people away from those drawings, there might be some policy in it; []
    • 1858, Varium, London: L. Booth, [], →OCLC, page 99:
      Who is this ugly young man with large feet, scarecrowing the pretty birds from my crops?
    • [1884], “Fiction and Fact”, in The Picture Reversed, London: The Religious Tract Society;  [], →OCLC, page 42:
      [W]e weren't doing any harm, only going into the fields, and making ourselves scarecrows to the birds. [] Then when I went scarecrowing with the big ones, she'd [his mother would] lead me a terrible life when I got back, threatening to turn me out.
    • 2016, Glenda Millard, “forgotten thing”, in The Stars at Oktober Bend, 1st UK edition, [Fittleworth, West Sussex]: Old Barn Books, →ISBN, pages 157–158:
      she leapt at their battering wings and i swung the broom. around and around i whirled, scarecrowing the demon birds, scrubbing my grandmother's words off the walls.
      The text of the work is not capitalized.
    • 2022, Anna Badkhen, “Once I Took a Weeklong Walk in the Sahara”, in Bright Unbearable Reality: Essays, New York, N.Y.: The New York Review of Books, →ISBN, pages 32–33:
      The herder, a seventeen-year-old boy named Hassan, the youngest son of a friend, scarecrowed madly in his blue robes to force the animals off the asphalt just in time for a silver SUV to whiz by toward Bamako.
  3. (archaic) To spoil the appearance of (something, such as the landscape or a view), as scarecrows may be regarded as doing.
    • 1853 October, “Pike, Salmon, Silurus, Herring, and Company. Esox or Pike.”, in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, volume XLVIII, number CCLXXXVI, London: John W[illiam] Parker and Son, [], →OCLC, footnote *, page 471:
      Fatigued and hungry as our party were after a long drive through the desolate region of malaria, wild buffaloes, wild birds, and yet wilder specimens of the human race, which here and there scare-crow the broad, sadly picturesque expanse between the last cork-trees near Salerno, and the treeless vicinage of the temple of Neptune, we dared not venture upon fish with green bones,—the only dish served up for our repast; [] we all preferred bearing our hunger, and traversing a second time the fiery plain unrefreshed, to breaking our fast upon such suspicious diet; []



  1. ^ scarecrow, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2022.
  2. ^ scarecrow, n.”, in Unabridged,, LLC, 1995–present, reproduced from Stuart Berg Flexner, editor in chief, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y.: Random House, 1993, →ISBN.
  3. ^ scarecrow, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2022.

Further reading[edit]