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Scarecrows in a rice paddy in Japan.

From scare +‎ crow. Replaced original shewel from Middle English sheweles, 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.



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.