Coulrophobia, the Fear of Clowns

According to the dictionary, a clown is a comic performer, usually in a circus, who dresses up in outlandish costumes and make-up. He pantomimes common situations or actions in an exaggerated or ridiculous way. A clown can also be a coarse, ill-bred person or a boor. The English word “clown” is thought to have perhaps come from a Scandinavian or Teutonic word for “clod,” which is also a boor.

During the Middle Ages, court jesters were clowns that performed for kings and nobles. Think about Danny Kaye’s hilarious performance in The Court Jester.

Even Shakespeare used clowns as comic relief to provide moments of humor in his tragedies. You can find them in As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Othello, and The Merchant of Venice. He even gave the clowns speaking parts, something that was not commonly done. Clowns were usually just portrayed as simple, ignorant fools, but Shakespeare gave them wisdom enough to speak profound truths in the midst of their humor.

Emmett Kelly, wikipedia

Emmett Kelly, wikipedia

Coulrophobia, the Fear of Clowns
A phobia is an extreme dread or fear of something. When a person encounters the object of his or her fear, he could experience anxiety, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, an irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, dry mouth, etc. While this person’s phobia may seem outrageous or unreasonable to you, I assure you it is not unreasonable to the person experiencing it.

Never make fun of anyone with a phobia, but you can bless (or curse) your characters with any number of these fears. The fear of clowns may or may not have been around since the first clown appeared, but it was only given the name coulrophobia in the 1980s.

clowns parade, pixabay

clowns parade, pixabay

How could a clown who is meant to bring laughter and joy elicit such fear in some people? Could it be their appearance? Their brightly colored, outlandish hair and their grease-painted faces keep one from seeing their true hair color and facial features. And the round, bright-red nose could make you wonder if they are somehow related to Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. Some really huge feet complete the effect.

Clowns dressed like that are supposed to make people laugh, but for those with coulrophobia, the effect they have is quite different. And not all clowns are made up to be funny. Some of them are quite terrifying to look at. They could stare at you with eyes void of emotion. Teeth could be pointed and look as though they are preparing to eat you. Part of their facial make-up could appear to be blood. There are so many different ways that they can be made to appear evil.

evil, bloody clown face, public domain

evil, bloody clown face, public domain

Besides not being able to see the person underneath the clown costume, what could cause people to fear them? Could it be because there has been a real-life clown who was, in reality, a monster? John Wayne Gacy, the Killer Clown, was a serial murderer and rapist. Between 1972 and 1978 in Chicago, Illinois, this “clown” sexually assaulted and murdered thirty-three males, some of them teenagers. That is a reason to at least be hesitant around these disguised entertainers.

Many books and movies also portray clowns as scary and evil. It by Stephen King brought us Pennywise, the monster that appeared in the form of a clown to attract children. Tim Curry played this terrifying clown in the movie, and he succeeded in scaring a bunch who were brave enough to go see it.

Who has seen Poltergeist?  The scary clown scene from it is awesome!  If you do have a fear of clowns, especially clown dolls, you might not want to watch this one.

Collective Nouns for Clowns
There are many possible collective nouns for clowns.  Which one you use in your writing will probably depend on how you want the clowns thought of.  Do you want your clowns to be humorous, or do you want them to be scary?

scary clowns at PDC2008 party at Universal Studios, flickr

scary clowns at PDC2008 party at Universal Studios, flickr

Below are some possible collective nouns to choose from:
an alley of clowns
a buggy of clowns
a carload of clowns
a circus of clowns
a pandemonium of clowns
a parliament of clowns
a prank of clowns

a pratfall of clowns – I wondered about this one. What is a pratfall?  I had never come across this word before.  A “pratfall” is a fall where you land flat on your butt.  It is also a humiliating blunder or defeat.  And we all know clowns are famous for making these falls.  I wonder, was that word created specifically because of clowns?

scary clown mask, flickr

scary clown mask, flickr

a scariness of clowns

If there are more collective nouns you would like to see added to this list, please suggest them to me and let me know why you think they would be appropriate.

Clowns in the News
Recent clown sightings have some people scared.

Fear of Clowns is Suddenly Sweeping the World

“This is serious:” Creepy clown sightings reported in second community in South Carolina

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

Writing Prompts
Take each one of the suggested collective nouns for clowns and write a story about how each of them began.You should get some funny stories as well as some scary ones from doing that.

Pretend there is a mysterious clown roaming through your neighborhood. No one seems to be able to catch him. No one knows what he is up to. It is up to you to decide. Is he out to do good for people? Is he disguised because he doesn’t want recognition for the good he is doing?

Or is he up to no good? Is he casing the houses to rob them? Is he a hit man and watching one certain individual to know when the best time to do away with him is? Is he a child molester and watching for just the perfect time to grab an unsuspecting child? Is he an alien of some kind who transforms into another type of creature when no one is watching?

Read the news articles that I shared above and see what ideas they give you for a story. I get the idea from them that the clowns sighted weren’t up to anything good.

Whatever you decide to write about clowns, and however you decide to portray them, please enjoy writing about them. After all, writing is hard, but it should be satisfying and fun.

Recommended Articles:
Pediophobia, the Fear of Dolls
Dark Corners: Twelve Tales of Terror – a Review
The Eidolon Tempest – a Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *