or goose flesh

[ goos-flesh ]
/ ˈgusˌflɛʃ /
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Origin of gooseflesh

late Middle English word dating back to 1375–1425
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021


What is gooseflesh?

Gooseflesh 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 can also be spelled as two words: goose flesh. It’s also called goose pimples and goose skin.

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

Another way of saying you have gooseflesh is to say that your hair is standing on end. Gooseflesh 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.

Gooseflesh is most commonly associated with itds appearance due to cold or scary situations, but you can also get gooseflesh 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 gooseflesh. Similar terms are the creeps, the heebie-jeebies, and the willies.

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

Where does gooseflesh come from?

The first records of the term gooseflesh in reference to hair standing on end come from the 1600s. The phrase goose skin is recorded earlier, in the 1600s, 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 gooseflesh 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 gooseflesh in response to being scared has led to the term hair-raising to describe a frightening experience. Biologically speaking, gooseflesh are 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 other forms related to gooseflesh?

  • goose flesh (alternate spelling)

What are some synonyms for gooseflesh?



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

What are some words that often get used in discussing gooseflesh?

How is gooseflesh used in real life?

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



Try using gooseflesh!

Which of the following things can trigger gooseflesh?

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

How to use gooseflesh in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for gooseflesh

goose flesh

the bumpy condition of the skin induced by cold, fear, etc, caused by contraction of the muscles at the base of the hair follicles with consequent erection of papillae: so called because of the resemblance to the skin of a freshly-plucked fowlAlso called: goose bumps, goose pimples, goose skin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012