goose skin

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Origin of goose skin

First recorded in 1630–40
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is goose skin?

Goose skin is another name for goose bumps—an informal term for what happens when your hair stands up, such as when you’re cold or scared.

It’s also called goose pimples and gooseflesh.

Technical terms for it are horripilation, piloerection, and cutis anserina. The verb horripilate means to trigger horripilation—to give someone goose skin, as in Horror stories have the power to horripilate the viewer. It can also mean to experience horripilation—to get goose skin.

Another way of saying you have goose skin is to say that your hair is standing on end. Goose skin is most noticeable in places where we don’t have much hair or the hair is very fine, such as the arms and neck. Sometimes, it just appears as raised bumps on the skin. These bumps are said to resemble those on the skin of a goose that has had its feathers plucked, hence the name.

Goose skin are most commonly associated with its appearance due to cold or scary situations, but you can also get goose skin from being wowed by something, such as a beautiful singing performance. The term can be used in a figurative way to refer to such a feeling, similar to the chills. Or it can refer to a creepy feeling, as in That abandoned house gives me goose skin. Similar terms are the creeps, the heebie-jeebies, and the willies.

Example: The kids are shivering and they have goose skin, but they still want to play outside in the cold.

Where does goose skin come from?

The first records of the term goose skin in reference to hair standing on end come from the 1600s. The phrases goose pimples and gooseflesh are recorded later, in the 1800s, and the first records of the term goose bumps come from the 1930s.

Interestingly, the word horror (and related words like horrific and horrifying) is based on the idea of hair standing on end due to fear. It comes from the Latin verb horrēre, meaning “to stand on end,” “to tremble,” or “to bristle with fear.” One of the technical terms for goose skin is horripilation, and the first part of the word is based on the same root (the second part comes from the Latin pilus, meaning “hair”—which is also the basis of pilo- in piloerection).

Getting goose skin in response to being scared has led to the term hair-raising to describe a frightening experience. Biologically speaking, goose skin is an involuntary reaction produced by the pilomotor reflex. It involves the contraction of tiny muscles at the base of each hair follicle called arrector pili (a name that’s based on the same roots as piloerection). This contraction results in the hairs standing up. When there’s no hair there or the hairs are very small, this reaction appears as bumps on the skin.

The involuntary raising of hair doesn’t only happen in humans. When some animals get startled or threatened, their fur raises in response. When the fur becomes raised in this way on the neck of an animal, such as a dog or cat, we say they’ve raised their hackles.

Did you know ... ?

What are some synonyms for goose skin?



What are some words that share a root or word element with goose skin

What are some words that often get used in discussing goose skin?

How is goose skin used in real life?

Goose skin is associated with being cold or scared or getting the chills from something impressive.



Try using goose skin!

Which of the following things can trigger goose skin?

A. fear
B. cold
C. a creepy whisper in your ear
D. all of the above

How to use goose skin in a sentence