From scare + crow from 1530s. Replaced original shewel from Middle English sheweles, from an unattested Old English form composed of scȳn + -els (scīewels). Compare Middle Low German schūwelse and Middle High German schiusel. More at shy.
scarecrow (plural scarecrows)
- 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.
- (figuratively, pejorative) A tall, thin, awkward person.
1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling:
- 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.
- (figuratively) Anything that appears terrifying but offers no danger.
- A scarecrow set to frighten fools away. — Dryden
- A person clad in rags and tatters.
- No eye hath seen such scarecrows. I'll not march with them through Coventry, that's flat. — Shakespeare
- (Britain, dialect) A bird, the black tern.
- (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.