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Scarecrows in a rice paddy in Japan.

From scare +‎ crow. Replaced original shewel from Middle English sheweles, of unclear origin but probably from an unattested Old English form, composed of scȳn +‎ -els (Old English scīewels). Compare Middle Low German schūwelse and Middle High German schiusel. See further at shy. Another replaced term for the thing was shoy-hoy, perhaps imitative of the cry of crows, in addition to bogle.



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 seeds or crops planted there. [from 1530s]
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:scarecrow
  2. (figuratively, derogatory) A tall, thin, awkward person.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume I, London: A[ndrew] Millar [], OCLC 928184292, book I, pages 21–22:
      A Conſultation was now entered into, how to proceed in order to diſcover the Mother. A Scrutiny was firſt made into the Characters of the female Servants of the Houſe, who were all acquitted by Mrs. Wilkins, and with apparent Merit; for ſhe had collected them herſelf, and perhaps it would be difficult to find ſuch another Set of Scarecrows.
  3. (figuratively) Anything that appears terrifying but presents no danger.
    • a. 1701, John Dryden, “Daphnis. From the Twenty-seventh Idyllium of Theocritus.”, in The Miscellaneous Works of John Dryden, [], volume II, London: [] J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, [], published 1760, OCLC 863244003, page 422:
      A ſcarecrow, ſet to frighten fools away; / Marriage has joys; and you ſhall have aſſay.
    • 1983, Saskatchewan Law Review (volume 48, page 114)
      The Canada West Foundation dismisses these concerns as "political scarecrows"; fearsome at first glance but irrelevant on closer examination. Unfortunately the problems of an elected Senate cannot be dismissed so easily.
  4. A person clad in rags and tatters.
  5. (Britain, dialectal) A bird, the black tern.

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

  1. (transitive) To splay rigidly outward, like the arms of a scarecrow.
    • 2006, Ron S. King, Nowhere Street, page 109:
      [] his small frame seeming scarecrowed in the over-large black coat.
    • 2010, Robert N. Chan, The Bad Samaritan:
      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.