verb (used with object)

to haunt; inhabit or appear in or to as a ghost or specter.
Informal. to frighten; scare.

verb (used without object)

Informal. to become frightened or scared: The fish spooked at any disturbance in the pool.

Origin of spook

1795–1805, Americanism; < Dutch; cognate with German Spuk
Related formsspook·er·y, nounspook·ish, adjective

Usage note

When referring to a black person, the term spook dates back to the 1940s. It is used with disparaging intent and is perceived as highly insulting. Black pilots who trained at Tuskegee Institute during World War II were called the Spookwaffe. Some sources say that black pilots reclaimed this derogatory nickname as a self-referential term of pride.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for spook

petrify, alarm, unnerve, startle, discomfort, horrify, panic, terrify

Examples from the Web for spook

Contemporary Examples of spook

Historical Examples of spook

British Dictionary definitions for spook



a ghost or a person suggestive of this
US and Canadian a spy
Southern African slang any pale or colourless alcoholic spiritspook and diesel

verb (tr) US and Canadian

to frightento spook horses; to spook a person
(of a ghost) to haunt
Derived Formsspookish, adjective

Word Origin for spook

C19: Dutch spook, from Middle Low German spōk ghost
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

Word Origin and History for spook

1801, from Dutch spook, from Middle Dutch spooc "spook, ghost," from a common Germanic source (cf. German Spuk "ghost, apparition," Middle Low German spok "spook," Swedish spok "scarecrow," Norwegian spjok "ghost, specter," Danish spøg "joke"), of unknown origin. Possible outside connections include Lettish spigana "dragon, witch," spiganis "will o' the wisp," Lithuanian spingu, spingeti "to shine," Old Prussian spanksti "spark."

Meaning "undercover agent" is attested from 1942. The derogatory racial sense of "black person" is attested from 1940s, perhaps from notion of dark skin being difficult to see at night. Black pilots trained at Tuskegee Institute during World War II called themselves the Spookwaffe.


1867, "to walk or act like a ghost," from spook (n.). Meaning "to unnerve" is from 1935. Related: Spooked; spooking.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper