(photo by KT Lindsay)
Noun & verb. Mid-16th century.
[Perhaps of Low German origin: compare with Northern Frisian klonne, klunne, clumsy fellow, klünj clod, lump, etc.]
A1 noun. A countryman, a rustic, a peasant, especially when regarded as ignorant, crass, or rude. M16
A2 noun. A person without refinement or culture; an ignoramus, a boor, an uncouth or ill-bred person. L16
A3 A fool or jester, especially in a pantomime or circus. E17
B1 verb trans (obsolete) and intrans. Play the clown; perform as a clown. L16
B2 verb trans. Play the clown in; portray like a clown. L19
D'you know the funny thing about clowns? Nope. Me neither. They're just not funny. They are, however, creepy, sinister, and per head of population more likely than the average man to dismember you with a sharpened balloon. I don't like clowns, I don't think anyone likes clowns, and if they are so popular, why are they always moonlighting as psychopaths in horror films?
Clowns are scary, and if you think so too know that you're not alone. The fear of clowns is called coulrophobia and is derived from the Greek kolobatheron meaning 'stilt' and the usual -phobia suffix. It's a 1980s neologism, and if you're wondering why such a word would have spawned in the 80s, it might have something to do with Stephen King's novel It, published in 1986, in which seminal psycho-clown Pennywise terrorised children and an entire generation of readers. Oh, and Ronald McDonald, easily an equal to Pennywise on the creepout scale, was particularly active in the 80s. He's been quietly scaled back by McDonalds in many countries, as seemingly no one likes eating with a leering clown looking over your shoulder. Perhaps he could be resurrected as a powerful tool in the fight against junk food ... ?
If you've ever wondered why clowns are so unnerving, it was a topic examined by Sheffield University in a study submitted to Nursing Standard Magazine. It found that the majority of children aged between four and sixteen disliked clowns, finding them "frightening and unknowable". It therefore recommended that clowns not be used as standard decor on children's wards. As to why clowns are scary, various theories were put forward. For one, clowns are from a different and unfamiliar era: "They don't look funny, they just look odd," said child psychologist Patricia Doorbar. And Professor Paul Salkovskis noted: "People are typically frightened by things that are wrong in some way, wrong in a disturbingly unfamiliar way." And there are few things more disturbingly unfamiliar than a perpetually leering, blanch-skinned buffoon with big hair and even bigger feet.
The etymology of clown is somewhat obscure, but may be of Low Germanic origin, related to the Northern Frisian words for 'clod' and 'clumsy fellow,' words befitting both the clown's bungling antics and its oafish attempts to entertain children that result in weeks of nightmares. It's also used in English as a mild insult - often in relation to something or someone that is so ridiculous that it should be funny, but still isn't: "Those clowns in government," or "My boss is an absolute clown." And, I must say, I particularly like your clownship, which was completely new to me but gets its very own entry in the OED.
Note: If you feel that the subject of clownery hasn't been treated with sufficient gravitas here, do visit the website of The World Clown Association, where they take their work very seriously.
|It's actually a 16-seater|
(photo by Oliver Gouldthorpe)
Are you a clown?
Do you suffer from coulrophobia?
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