Should you use “spooky” this season?

Halloween is tomorrow, which means it’s the season of scaring. Whether it’s ghosts or spiders that creep you out, if you’re describing how you feel when you see them, you might want to avoid the word spooked.

“Spook” is of Dutch origin and was first used to mean “ghost.” But around World War II, it took on two new meanings. One of them was “spy.” The other was as a racial slur for Black people.

"Spook" can mean "ghost" or "spy," but it's also been used as a racist slur for Black people. Consider context and alternatives before using it. For example, you can use "eerie" or "scary" instead of "spooky."

You’ve probably seen or heard “spook” and variations such as “spooky” enough this month to know it’s not completely off limits. But it can still be used in inappropriate or offensive ways, so it’s important to consider context, as the sociolinguist Renee Blake told NPR.

There is no shortage of synonyms for the noun, verb or adjective, including, according to Merriam-Webster, “scarify.” Now there’s a new one, even for us.

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