Words and phrases you may want to think twice about using

Historical, cultural context important for phrases like 'grandfathered in' and 'spirit animal'.

spook vulgar meaning

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Have you ever casually used the terms "spirit animal," "first-world problem," or "spooky"? It might be time to rethink your use of these phrases and remove them from your daily lingo.

CBC Ottawa compiled a small list of words, submitted by readers and some of our journalists who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour. We ran some of the words by anti-racism and language experts, who said some of these phrases can be hurtful to various groups of people for their historical and cultural context.

"Being an English speaker doesn't entail that you necessarily know the racist etymology automatically," said Ai Taniguchi, a linguist and an associate language studies professor with University of Toronto Mississauga, in an email to CBC.

Etymology is the study of the origins of words and the way their meanings change over time.

"The fact that you said it, oblivious to the etymology, doesn't automatically make you a bad person."

What you do once you find out a word is racist, sexist or ableist etymology carries more importance, she explained.

Taniguchi said she understands it's a tricky question, but it's less about being politically correct and more about listening to the lived experiences of others. 

It's not so much about political correctness, I think it is about the empirical accuracy. - Jas Kalra, Anti-racism trainer

"'I didn't know it was racist' does not eliminate the pain of the hearer," said Taniguchi. "As language users, we have the social responsibility to monitor the impact our utterances have on others, especially when it involves a marginalized group."

Anti-racism trainer Jas Kalra agrees.

"It's not so much about political correctness, I think it is about the empirical accuracy and ... if somebody really calls us out on a particular word, we need to stop and say, 'It's not about me,'" said Kalra, who runs Ottawa-based Jas Kalra Consulting and coaches people and organizations on inclusion and diversity.

Blackmail, blacklist and black sheep

"The issue here is that these are all negative terms," said Joseph Smith, an anti-racism trainer and educator. "[It] connotes evil, distrust, lack of intelligence, ignorance, a lack beauty — the absence of white." 

This lowering of blackness on the spectrum with regards to value was developed further in the wake of the transatlantic slave trade but it also predates that, explained Smith. 

"[Black] became associated with a particular group of people, and that group of people received all that negative connotation. That's why we try to move away from these kinds of terms." 

Kalra pointed out the tech industry is now moving away from using whitelist and blacklist, replacing it with terms like block-list or deny-list. Computer code labels like 'master' and 'slave' are also being re-examined.

"If we use the words 'allow-list' [instead of whitelist] or deny-list ... it enhances the true understanding of that word," she said.

WATCH | Anti-racism trainer explains why it's important to be sensitive to vocabulary:

spook vulgar meaning

How to break the habit of using hurtful words

Ghetto and inner city.

Smith says terms like ghetto and inner city grew out of the industrial revolution in North America. The word ghetto also has a painful historical root in Europe during the Holocaust, and was likely derived from Jewish settlements in Italy centuries ago.

"Ghettos and inner cities were typically seen to be places where less refined people lived — the people who weren't up to date culturally, development-wise," he said. 

Meanwhile, from the late 1900s onwards, political rhetoric and media representation showed suburbs as pleasant, quiet and gentle areas, while inner city was seen as dangerous and risky, he explained. 

Using these terms implies a negative connotation toward people of a certain socio-economic class (often associated with racialized groups) — typically those who have recently immigrated and often move to large metropolis areas and not suburbs, he said. 

The term "spook" — used sometimes to refer to a ghost, spy, or something that's strange and frightening (often used during Halloween) — has a history of being an anti-Black slur when white soldiers began calling fellow Black soldiers "spooks" during World War II.

"[It's offensive] because of who and to what it's applied to," said Smith. 

spook vulgar meaning

He reminds people a lot is packed into certain terms you may use flippantly.

"There's a history behind it and there's also all these connections that are made to other groups," he said. "It's almost like these terms have tentacles that spread and attach themselves to other things and infect."

Sold down the river

This phrase, now used to mean someone profoundly betrayed or jeopardized one's position, is directly connected to the transatlantic slave trade, Smith said. 

"The problem with it, we use it in a lot of spaces," he said. "The negative connotation is hearkening back to a time when enslaved African people would be literally sold down the [Mississippi] river for profit, and seen as chattel, objects that could be used or disposed of at the whims of their slave owners."

Linguist Taniguchi says once we learn the painful history behind phrases like these, we need to commit to being sensitive to others' experiences.

"Language, communication, and free speech are valuable, but these things cannot come at the cost of endangering someone else's rights and pursuit of happiness."

Grandfathered in

Likewise, the phrase grandfathered in — modernly referring to someone or a business being exempt from new rules and continue operating as is — dates back to a 19th century policy called the "grandfather clause," which indirectly stopped Black Americans from voting by limiting eligibility to only those whose ancestors could vote.

spook vulgar meaning

"It's also speaking to that patriarchy ... a patriarchic family having supreme power over how things operate and manifest, and them possessing all the power and autonomy to make decisions and dictate the course of the future," said Smith.

"It's re-inscribing the idea of a male-dominated society or world."

"At a meeting, let's say you said 'grandfathered in' — you had no idea that it has racist roots. If a Black person asks you not to use that term, then don't," said Taniguchi.

Spirit animal, powwow and tribe

Given the history and current oppression of Indigenous communities by settlers, explained Taniguchi, metaphors English speakers casually use — such as spirit animal, let's have a powwow, and tribe — can be a painful insult to Indigenous communities.

"[It's] a reminder that their past and culture have always been treated as insignificant by settlers," she added.

Spirit animal has become a term of endearment to describe someone who the speaker deeply relates to or loves, explained anti-racism facilitator Kalra. Some synonyms can be alter ego, idol or soulmate.

spook vulgar meaning

However, she notes, spiritual connection and reverence for nature and ancestors is deeply rooted across Indigenous cultures — and the phrase itself turns that concept into a casual catchphrase that isn't widely used, or even used at all, among Indigenous people.

The same idea applies to using tribe and powwow — used to say "let's gather" — casually in conversation by someone who's not Indigenous.

"If a non-Indigenous person says 'this is my tribe,' I don't think it's OK, despite the fact that they're using it presumably in a metaphorical way," said Taniguchi. 

Lowest on the totem pole

Totem poles are sacred items, much like headdresses, in Indigenous culture, explained Kalra. 

The phrase "lowest on the totem pole," casually meaning something is less important, not only is culturally appropriating the totem pole, but it's contextually wrong.

"In some First Nations communities, being [carved] low on the totem pole might actually be a great honour," she said. "When you're culturally appropriating somebody's cultural symbols ... you're saying that marginalized members of society are free for taking." 

  • NHL totem poles called 'blatant cultural appropriation' pulled from some stores

In the modern context, savage has become a word used to describe someone who is fierce, or a situation that is intense — and carries a positive or semi-positive connotation.

It's used a lot in the sports world, explained Smith, especially among men when describing actions, behaviours and thoughts that don't conform to norms. 

The problem, he says, is the word's origin: it was used by colonizers who saw themselves as "the epitome of refinement, intelligence, spirituality" and considered Indigenous people, and Black and other people of colour who were forcibly brought to North America, or arrived here soon after colonization, as "savage, brutal, unrefined, and uncultured in comparison to European settlers." 

In 2019, an Indigenous educator called out a clothing line for using the word on T-shirts.

"It's important to understand that for Indigenous people, this word is our N-word," said Douglas Stewart at the time.

  • 'This word is our N-word': Indigenous teacher asks Urban Planet to drop racial slur

Gypped and gypsy

When someone says they've been "gypped," they mean defrauded or swindled of something. 

But that word, which stems from gypsy, is problematic as it has been used as a derogatory slur against Roma who historically travelled from place to place across Europe, says Smith.

The term perpetuates the stereotype that Roma are lower class, not mature or cultured, and foreigners, explained Smith. 

"You're othering somebody," he said.

First-world problem

People have slowly moved away from using the term third world to describe low-income countries, says Kalra, but the phrase first-world problem is still used to convey that something is an issue only to those who live in a country with privilege and wealth. 

It can be classist, she said.

"When we're saying first world, we're putting them at the top ... What does it convey?" she said. "Why do we have to use these prefixes, which kind of dehumanize some country or some human being or a group?" 

Brainstorm, blindsided and blind-spot

The prefix blind is often used in metaphorical terms like blindsided, blind spot and blind leading the blind, to describe the limitation of sight.

"I can see that being offensive to people who can't see," said Julie Cashman, a member of the disability community and co-chair of Consumer Action Committee, which advocates for individuals with disabilities. 

Using the term brainstorm could also be insensitive to those who have brain injuries or are neurodiverse, added Cashman.

"More important is the stigma that it will effectuate about ...  disorders [like] epilepsy for example," said Kalra.

Dumb and lame

Dumb is modernly used to describe lack of intelligence, but it was once used to describe someone who lacked the ability to speak. Similarly, lame is now used to describe someone or something that's boring or unexciting, but was also a term used against those who have limitations of movement in their limbs. 

Both are highly offensive when describing people in the disability community, but also when used casually, says Cashman.

"People now are using lame as a slang, so they go around saying that's lame," she said. "I don't think they really understand what that means .. they just think it's a cool term, but for me, when I hear that, I definitely know what that term means ... it's something I wouldn't say."

WATCH | Disability advocate explains how words have hurt her in the past:

spook vulgar meaning

‘Using those words is not appropriate’

Though it's used to describe someone who's not able to distinguish musical pitch, or metaphorically as someone who's insensitive to certain matters, tone deaf may not be a kind term to those who have hearing impairments.

Cashman suggests using descriptors like "musically disinclined" instead. Insensitive is another suggestion.

  • Map Controversial street names in Ottawa, according to you

This term is used more as a verb to describe a situation, however, it was used historically dating back thousands of years to describe people who are partially disabled or unable to move their limbs. 

"I've seen that word being used in the Bible," said Cashman. "I think that's very offensive ... I would use maybe disability ... or mobility issue." 

"It's ableist," said Hélène Courchesne, co-ordinator of planning and funding with Ottawa-based group ABLE2, which supports people with disabilities. "It's taken out of context and that's when it becomes offensive."

Metaphorically, people can say "overtaken by fear," she suggests.

"It's the pejorative connotation to it. You're not as good as me, you'll never be as good as me," Courchesne explained about using words that can be painful for the disability community.

"Language is very important."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here .

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

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Informal . a ghost ; specter .

Slang . a ghostwriter .

Slang . an eccentric person.

Slang : Extremely Disparaging and Offensive . a contemptuous term used to refer to a Black person.

Slang . an espionage agent; spy .

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

Informal . to frighten; scare .

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

Origin of spook

Usage note for spook, other words from spook.

  • spook·er·y, noun
  • spookish, adjective

Words Nearby spook

  • spontaneous recovery

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use spook in a sentence

And he just so happens to be the hardest-working spook on the planet.

Few people knew better than Orson Welles how to spook an entire country.

Authorities in Moscow claim to have arrested an American spook wearing wigs and carrying an incriminating letter.

A third test will, therefore, further spook nervous allies and create a new sense of vulnerability among Americans.

From suave Jack Ryan to smarmy Eugene Kittridge, potential candidates for America's next top spook .

More than with the " spook ," however, was the public mind agitated by other rumors which touched upon "south meadow."

A speck is a minute spot, and among the ancients a speck or dot within a circle was the symbol of the central spook or Spectre.

It gets me what she was doing in that spook place alone at night.

How do you connect this gentlemanly spook with the treasure, your Excellency?

I think there is more in this spook story than Colonel McClure knows of, or, at least, will admit.

British Dictionary definitions for spook

/ ( spuːk ) informal /

a ghost or a person suggestive of this

US and Canadian a spy

Southern African slang any pale or colourless alcoholic spirit : spook and diesel

to frighten : to spook horses ; to spook a person

(of a ghost) to haunt

Derived forms of spook

  • spookish , adjective

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

Is 'spooky' season insensitive? What to know about the word's racist origins, etiquette

spook vulgar meaning

As temperatures cool down and scary Halloween decor goes up, it seems fitting to call October "spooky" season. However, hurtful connotations associated with the word raise questions of etiquette.

During the season of murder mysteries and haunted hayrides, is it insensitive to say that you were spooked?

According to NPR, spook comes from the Dutch word for apparition, or specter. The noun was first  used in English  around the turn of the nineteenth century.

From there, the word lived a harmless life, but in World War II, white American soldiers started referring to their Black counterparts as "spooks," Newsweek reports.

The Black Army pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute were  referred to as the "Spookwaffe"  — a play on the German air force's Luftwaffe.

Once the word "spook" was linked to race, it wasn't long before it became a recognizable slur.

Sociolinguist Renee Blake  told NPR that the word "spook" isn't used too often in modern times, but there are a few recent examples tying it to racial implications.

The first is a book-then-movie "The Spook Who Sat by the Door," by Sam Greenlee, which depicts a man treated as a "token Black person" when hired by the CIA. The second is the 2000 book and 2003 movie "The Human Stain," by Phillip Roth. His novel tells the story of a professor at a New England college who is forced to resign after he calls two African-American students spooks.

The word spook hasn't just gotten fictional people in trouble. In 2010, Target apologized for  selling a Halloween toy called "Spook Drop Parachuters"  — literally miniature black figurines with orange parachutes. And in 2018, an  elementary school  in North Carolina came under fire when a student came home with "spook" and "gook" ― an offensive term to people of East and Southeast Asian descent ― on his list of vocabulary words to memorize.

While it's clear that "spook" has multiple, distinct meanings, Blake told NPR that it's still important to think about context.

"Be thoughtful about the fact that [spook] now might have the connotation of referring to a Black person in a disparaging way," Blake told NPR. "If someone says, 'Did you get spooked?' and there are no Black people there, then, OK, you mean 'Did you get scared or frightened?' That's fine, I get it."

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This Halloween: What Does It Mean To Call Something 'Spooky'?

Leah

Leah Donnella

spook vulgar meaning

A runner passes a ghostly sculpture on display between Bondi Beach and Tamarama Beach in Sydney. Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

A runner passes a ghostly sculpture on display between Bondi Beach and Tamarama Beach in Sydney.

So, you're at your friend's elaborately decorated Halloween party. There are cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, bloody handprints on the wall, a frothing potion brewing on the stove. It's creepy! And scary! But is it ... spooky?

Sure, "spook" can refer to a ghost. It can refer to a spy. But as many of us know, it's also, sometimes, a racial slur for black people. One of our Ask Code Switch readers wrote in to ask about the etiquette of using words like spook and spooky.

During this, the season of murder mysteries and haunted hayrides, is it insensitive to say that you were spooked?

On Halloween, Insensitivity Goes Beyond Kimonos And Black Face

On Halloween, Insensitivity Goes Beyond Kimonos And Black Face

So here's the deal: Spook comes from the Dutch word for apparition, or specter. The noun was first used in English around the turn of the nineteenth century. Over the next few decades, it developed other forms, like spooky, spookish, and of course, the verb, to spook.

From there, it seems, the word lived a relatively innocuous life for many years, existing in the liminal space between surprise and mild fear.

It wasn't until World War II that spook started to refer to black people . The black Army pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute were referred to as the "Spookwaffe" — waffe being the German word for weapon, or gun. (Luftwaffe was the name of the German air force).

Once the word "spook" was linked to blackness, it wasn't long before it became a recognizable — if second-tier — slur.

But that wasn't the end of the story for spook. The word had a bit of a renaissance in the 1970s, with the release of the novel and classic film, The Spook Who Sat By The Door , by Sam Greenlee .

Both the book and movie tell the fictional story of the first black man recruited and trained by the CIA. That man goes through his training, works for a little while, and then quits his job and moves back to Chicago, where he secretly trains a group of young black "freedom fighters."

What A Thug's Life Looked Like In 19th Century India

What A Thug's Life Looked Like In 19th Century India

The title of the movie, of course, both refers to spook meaning "black person" and spook meaning "spy." And as a satirical piece of literature written by an African-American author in the years following the civil rights movement, the use of "spook" was infused with an extra dose of irony.

Renee Blake is a sociolinguist who studies the way language is used in society, "whether it's based on race, class, gender or the like." She says she doesn't hear the word spook all that often, but she does have two salient reference points for it.

The first is The Spook Who Sat By The Door , and the second is the 2000 book and 2003 movie The Human Stain, by Phillip Roth. His novel tells the story of a professor at a New England college who is forced to resign after he calls two African-American students spooks.

The word spook hasn't just gotten fictional people in trouble. In 2010, Target apologized for selling a Halloween toy called "Spook Drop Parachuters" — literally miniature black figurines with orange parachutes.

In light of all this baggage, I asked Blake what she thought about the use of words like spook and spooky during Halloween. She said that, while it's clear that spook has multiple, distinct meanings, it's still important to think about context.

The way that certain words get attached to particular racial groups is incredibly complicated. ( Take thug , for example .)

"Be thoughtful about the fact that [spook] now might have the connotation of referring to a black person in a disparaging way," Blake says. "If someone says, 'Did you get spooked?' and there are no black people there, then, OK, you mean 'Did you get scared or frightened?' That's fine, I get it."

But once you insert black people into the situation, Blake says, it's important to be more tactful. "We know that the word 'niggardly' doesn't mean a black person, but let's be sensitive. Are you going to use the word niggardly in front of a group of young students in a classroom? No."

So, this Halloween, be a little cautious when it comes to describing your surroundings. And don't be afraid of creeping into the thesaurus for a spooky synonym.

To me, it's more fun to be aghast, bloodcurdled, or spine-chilled than "spooked."

Got a race question for Code Switch? Ask us here .

  • black people
  • african american

Synonyms of spook

  • as in ghost
  • as in to frighten
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Thesaurus Definition of spook

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Synonyms & Similar Words

  • undercover agent
  • secret agent
  • intelligencer
  • double agent
  • stool pigeon
  • infiltrator
  • poltergeist
  • materialization
  • familiar spirit
  • doppelganger
  • doppelgänger

Thesaurus Definition of spook  (Entry 2 of 2)

  • make one's flesh crawl
  • give one the creeps
  • make one's flesh creep
  • psych (out)

Antonyms & Near Antonyms

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Cite this entry.

“Spook.” Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/spook. Accessed 7 Jan. 2024.

More from Merriam-Webster on spook

Nglish: Translation of spook for Spanish Speakers

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  • 1.1 Etymology
  • 1.2 Pronunciation
  • 1.3.1 Translations
  • 1.4.1 Derived terms
  • 1.4.2 Translations
  • 1.5 Further reading
  • 1.6 Anagrams
  • 2.1 Etymology
  • 2.2 Pronunciation
  • 2.3.1 Descendants
  • 3.1 Pronunciation
  • 3.2.1.1 Synonyms
  • 3.2.1.2 Derived terms
  • 3.2.1.3 Descendants

English [ edit ]

Etymology [ edit ].

Borrowed from Dutch spook ( “ ghost ” ) , from Middle Dutch spooc ( “ spook, ghost ” ) . Cognate with Middle Low German spôk , spûk ( “ apparition, ghost ” ) , Middle High German gespük ( “ a haunting ” ) , German Spuk , Danish spøge ( “ to haunt ” ) , Swedish spöke ( “ ghost ” ) . Doublet of puck .

Pronunciation [ edit ]

  • enPR : spo͞ok , IPA ( key ) : /spuːk/
  • Rhymes: -uːk

Noun [ edit ]

spook ( plural spooks )

  • 1925 July – 1926 May , A[rthur] Conan Doyle , “ (please specify the chapter number) ”, in The Land of Mist (eBook no. 0601351h.html), Australia: Project Gutenberg Australia , published April 2019: "I'll say what I think, no more and no less, and I won't be scared by you or your spooks into altering my opinions."
  • A hobgoblin .
  • ( informal ) A scare or fright . The big spider gave me a spook .
  • 2009 July 24, “Spies like them”, in BBC News Magazine : From Ian Fleming to John Le Carre - authors have long been fascinated by the world of espionage. But, asks the BBC’s Gordon Corera, what do real life spooks make of fictional spies?
  • 2012 October 13, “Huawei and ZTE: Put on hold”, in The Economist ‎ [1] : The congressional study frets that Huawei’s and ZTE’s products could be used as Trojan horses by Chinese spooks .
  • 1976 , Paul Schrader , Taxi Driver , spoken by Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro): Some won't take spooks —hell, don't make no difference to me.
  • 2002 February, Don Spears, Playing for Keeps ‎ [2] , Los Angeles: Milligan Books, →ISBN , →OCLC , page 179 : " [ … ] Dryades Street and that whole uptown neighborhood is gonna be worth a fortune once the white people take it back from you spooks and develop it. [ … ] "
  • 1845 , Max Stirner , translated by Steven T. Byington, Der Einzige und sein Eigentum ; republished as The Ego and His Own , Dover, 2005 : He who is infatuated with Man leaves persons out of account so far as that infatuation extends, and floats in an ideal, sacred interest. Man , you see, is not a person, but an ideal, a spook .
  • 1975 , Robert O. Pasnau, Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry , page 124 : Commonly, the surgeons view nonsurgeons with disdain. The most disdain is directed toward the “shrinks” or the “ spooks ,” as the psychiatrists are called.
  • ( blackjack , slang ) A player who engages in hole carding by attempting to glimpse the dealer's hole card when the dealer checks under an ace or a 10 to see if a blackjack is present.

Translations [ edit ]

Verb [ edit ].

spook ( third-person singular simple present spooks , present participle spooking , simple past and past participle spooked )

  • 2022 August 10, “Stop & Examine”, in RAIL , number 963 , page 71 : As that was happening, an East Midlands train came through at 90mph. George [a Labrador] was spooked as the train went past him and ran backwards across the neighbouring slow lines and off towards the sidings.
  • ( intransitive ) To become frightened (by something startling). The deer spooked at the sound of the dogs.
  • ( transitive ) To haunt .

Derived terms [ edit ]

  • spookmaster

Further reading [ edit ]

Anagrams [ edit ].

  • Koops , SOKOP , Sopko

Afrikaans [ edit ]

From Dutch spook , from Middle Dutch spoke , spooc , from Proto-Germanic *spōk .

  • IPA ( key ) : /spʊə̯k/

spook ( plural spoke , diminutive spokie )

  • ghost , phantom

Descendants [ edit ]

  • → Xhosa: isiporho
  • → Zulu: isipoki

Dutch [ edit ]

  • IPA ( key ) : /spoːk/
  • Hyphenation: spook
  • Rhymes: -oːk

Etymology 1 [ edit ]

From Middle Dutch spoke , spooc , from spoke , spoocke , spoicke ( “ wizardry, witchcraft ” ) , from Proto-Germanic *spōk . Further etymology unclear. Cognate with Middle Low German spôk , Low German spôk , Middle High German Spuch , and German Spuk .

spook vulgar meaning

spook   n ( plural spoken , diminutive spookje   n )

  • phantom , ghost Geloof je in spoken? ― Do you believe in ghosts?
  • spectre, horror , terror het spook van de oorlog ― the horror of war
  • an imaginary horror, conceptual nightmare
  • an annoying and intolerable woman

Synonyms [ edit ]

  • spokenjager
  • spookambtenaar
  • spookverhaal
  • → Northern Ndebele: isipoko
  • Negerhollands: spook
  • → English: spook
  • → Papiamentu: spoki , spooki

Etymology 2 [ edit ]

See the etymology of the corresponding lemma form.

  • first-person singular present indicative

Middle English [ edit ]

  • Alternative form of spoke

spook vulgar meaning

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Definition of spook verb from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

  • be spooked (by somebody/something) We were spooked by the strange noises and lights.
  • spook at something The horse spooked at the siren.

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Find out which words work together and produce more natural-sounding English with the Oxford Collocations Dictionary app. Try it for free as part of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary app.

spook vulgar meaning

By Sopan Deb

If you’re the creative type and you’re struggling to come up with your next idea, do not fear: Some big works, including the original version of Mickey Mouse, are entering the public domain on Jan. 1 in the United States.

And if, on the other hand, you prefer your Disney characters to be cute, cuddly and never-changing, well … you might want to stop reading.

In 2024, thousands of copyrighted works published in 1928 are entering the public domain, after their 95-year term expires.

This means that those characters and stories can be remade — on the page, stage or screen — without permission. (Finally, I can make that Peter Pan musical where a middle-aged Peter laments unexplained back pains at the end of Act I.)

“It’s important for the preservation of our cultural record, for meaningful access to older works for inspiring future creativity,” Jennifer Jenkins, the director for the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School, said.

The crème de la crème of this year’s public domain class are Mickey Mouse and, of course, Minnie, or at least black-and-white versions of our favorite squeaky rodents that appeared in “Steamboat Willie.” Disney is famously litigious , and this copyright covers only the original versions of the character.

The New York Times reached out to some writers, producers and directors to give you a taste of what might be unleashed in this strange new world.

Wilhelm II and Tigger Too?

Tigger will also be liberated on Jan. 1 and could soon be reunited with Winnie the Pooh in the reborn character’s next slasher film. Yes, you read that right. In a preview of what could be awaiting other 95-year-old icons, the silly old bear became a sledgehammer-wielding monster in “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.” The sequel is slated for February.

“The original ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was OK, but the horror of modern warfare will be much better illustrated with a crossover remake where Mickey and Tigger trick the Kaiser into getting his head stuck in a mop bucket,” said Zhubin Parang, a co-executive producer for “The Daily Show.” (“All Quiet on the Western Front” — at least the original German version of the novel — is also entering public domain, though later translations are not … yet.)

Hey, 1928 called. It wants all of these back:

Then there’s J.M. Barrie’s stage version of “Peter Pan; or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” the D.H. Lawrence novel “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando: A Biography,” Wanda Gág’s picture book, “Millions of Cats,” and many more. (For a full list, see here .)

“I’m pretty annoyed to see that we’ll probably be getting more Peter Pan material now,” Josh Lieb, a comedy writer and producer, said. “Nobody likes Peter Pan. In fact, I think I speak for all humanity when I say that we hate Peter Pan and we hate people who make movies about him.”

Not everyone hates Peter Pan — sorry, Josh. Bob Greenblatt, a producer of the Broadway-bound musical “Smash,” called for a new stage adaptation with Daniel Radcliffe as Peter, Lindsay Mendez as Wendy, and Jonathan Groff as Captain Hook.

Nik Dodani, the actor, had a Peter Pan film idea too.

“When Wendy meets Peter, a charismatic and seemingly ageless young man, she is drawn into a nightmarish journey of obsession, unveiling the sinister truth behind his eternal youth,” Dodani said. (We couldn’t print the sinister truth. You’ll have to wait for the movie.)

Can I kick it with music, too?

Yes you can! Musical compositions, like the original version of “Mack the Knife,” which was written in German for an opera by Bertolt Brecht called “The Threepenny Opera,” and musical recordings, like “Dippermouth Blues,” featuring Louis Armstrong, will also be freed Jan. 1.

“I often fantasize about the golden age of sampling where you could ostensibly lift the greatest riffs of all time with impunity. I’m looking at you, ‘Can I Kick It? ’” Ryan Miller, a founding member of the band Guster, said, referring to the A Tribe Called Quest song. “Jan. 1, aka Emancipation Day, is now an annual ritual to dig into the mines with minimal guilt. I mean, who doesn’t need a new spin on ‘Yes! We Have No Bananas’? Don’t answer that.” (The recording of “Yes! We Have No Bananas” by Billy Jones will be available.)

I still don’t have any ideas. Help!

Not to worry. It’s public domain! Freedom! Steal away! Gordon Greenberg, who is directing a Huey Lewis-inspired Broadway musical this spring, said this was an opportunity to “reimagine some classics from new points of view.”

The playwright Lindsey Ferrentino proposed a mash-up of titles.

“Maybe a production of ‘Threepenny Opera’ with the character of Mackie Messer recast as Mickey Mouse. Very Brechtian,” Ferrentino said. “Don’t ask me to write it though.”

The steamy “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” sparked a lot of interest. Neil Meron, a producer of the Broadway musical “Some Like It Hot,” suggested “a gender fluid immersive” musical adaptation with a score from Sam Smith.

Karen Chee, a writer for “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” pitched “Lady Chatterley’s Millions of Cats.” Ah, but let’s flesh this out! Chee added: “A lonely wife who forgoes sexy times to instead adopt millions of cats.” (Of course.)

From Bob Gale, co-writer of both the film and musical versions of “Back To The Future”: “Is Mickey the new lover of Lady Chatterley, or is he only a voyeur?”

E.M. Tran, a novelist, was intrigued by a “Millions of Cats” musical.

“Just dozens — or millions — of puppet cats onstage with a singing and dancing elderly couple,” Tran said. (Kristoffer Diaz, the playwright, agreed, saying the musical “kind of writes itself.”)

The comedian Gabby Bryan demanded an update to the recording of “The Charleston,” but with Mark Ronson sampling the James P. Johnson version.

“He’s done disco, he’s done dance, he’s done blues, he’s done country, he’s done Ken ,” Bryan said, referring to Ronson. “So I challenge you this Mark, if that even is your real name.”

And if that still isn’t enough to get you started, just wait. Over the next decade, freedom awaits all of these characters: Popeye; Pluto; Donald Duck; King Kong (the original film version); Superman; Daffy Duck; Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and others from the Hobbit; James Bond; Batman; Captain Marvel.

Get to work, people. And remember, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”*

*This song lyric is still under copyright until 2064.

Sopan Deb is a general assignment reporter for The New York Times. Before joining The Times, he covered Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign for CBS News. More about Sopan Deb

Cambridge Dictionary

  • Cambridge Dictionary +Plus

Meaning of spook in English

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spook noun [C] ( SPIRIT )

  • astral plane
  • astral projection
  • incorporeal
  • necromancer
  • reincarnation

spook noun [C] ( PERSON )

  • agent provocateur
  • industrial espionage
  • intelligence
  • secret service
  • spy on someone/something
  • chill someone to the bone/marrow idiom
  • doom monger
  • heart-stopping
  • make someone's blood curdle idiom
  • scare someone into doing something
  • scare someone shitless idiom
  • scare/frighten the life out of someone idiom
  • scaremongering
  • the heebie-jeebies

spook | American Dictionary

Spook verb [t] ( frighten ), examples of spook, translations of spook.

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spook vulgar meaning

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Definition of 'spook'

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COMMENTS

  1. Why was "Spook" a slur used to refer to African Americans?

    Ask Question Asked 5 months ago Modified 3 months ago Viewed 7k times 4 I understand that the word spook is a racial slur that rose in usage during WWII; I also know Germans called black gunners Spookwaffe. What I don't understand is why. Spook seems to also mean 'ghost' in German. Did the Americans call them spooks because the Germans did?

  2. The racist history of the word "spook."

    The black Army pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute were referred to as the "Spookwaffe" — waffe being the German word for weapon, or gun. (Luftwaffe was the name of the German air force)....

  3. Words and phrases you may want to think twice about using

    (Leah Hansen/CBC) Have you ever casually used the terms "spirit animal," "first-world problem," or "spooky"? It might be time to rethink your use of these phrases and remove them from your daily...

  4. SPOOK Definition & Usage Examples

    noun Informal. a ghost; specter. Slang. a ghostwriter. Slang. an eccentric person. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a contemptuous term used to refer to a Black person. Slang. an espionage agent; spy. verb (used with object) to haunt; inhabit or appear in or to as a ghost or specter. Informal. to frighten; scare.

  5. Before You Use the Word 'Spooky' You Should Know Its Racist Origins

    According to Merriam-Webster, the word "spooky" is defined as, "relating to, resembling or suggesting spooks." A further break-down of "spook" gives way to the meaning, "ghost, specter" or "an...

  6. Is 'spooky' a slur? What to know about its racist origins, etiquette

    Once the word "spook" was linked to race, it wasn't long before it became a recognizable slur. Sociolinguist Renee Blake told NPR that the word "spook" isn't used too often in modern times, but there are a few recent examples tying it to racial implications. The first is a book-then-movie "The Spook Who Sat by the Door," by Sam Greenlee, which ...

  7. Spook Definition & Meaning

    1 : ghost, specter 2 : an undercover agent : spy spookish ˈspü-kish adjective spook 2 of 2 verb spooked; spooking; spooks transitive verb 1 : haunt sense 3 2 : to make frightened or frantic : scare especially : to startle into violent activity (such as stampeding) intransitive verb : to become spooked cattle spooking at shadows Synonyms Noun agent

  8. Spook

    1. Informal A ghost; a specter. 2. Slang A secret agent; a spy. 3. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a black person. v. spooked, spook·ing, spooks v.tr. 1. To haunt. 2. To startle and cause nervous activity in; frighten: The news spooked investors, and stock prices fell. v.intr. To become frightened and nervous.

  9. SPOOK definition and meaning

    5 meanings: 1. a ghost or a person suggestive of this 2. US and Canadian a spy 3. South Africa slang any pale or colourless.... Click for more definitions.

  10. spook

    v.t. to haunt; inhabit or appear in or to as a ghost or specter. Informal Terms to frighten; scare. v.i. [ Informal.]to become frightened or scared: The fish spooked at any disturbance in the pool. Dutch; cognate with German Spuk 1795-1805, American. spook′er•y, n. spook′ish, adj. Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::

  11. What does spook mean? spook Definition. Meaning of spook

    Most vulgar Your vote: None (To vote, click the pepper.

  12. Spook is a slur? : r/TrueAnon

    42. [deleted] • 2 yr. ago. Yes, it is/was used as a slur against black people in some parts of the US among certain segments of the population. However, I think it's far more commonly used in reference to intelligence agents. Got called out for using the word spook specifically in a leftist context of referring to spies.

  13. SPOOK

    SPOOK | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary Meaning of spook in English spook noun [ C ] us / spuːk / uk / spuːk / spook noun [C] (SPIRIT) Add to word list informal for ghost : The film was dreadful - all spooks and vampires. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases Souls, spirits & ghosts apparition astral plane astral projection

  14. This Halloween: What Does It Mean To Call Something 'Spooky'?

    The black Army pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute were referred to as the "Spookwaffe" — waffe being the German word for weapon, or gun. (Luftwaffe was the name of the German air force)....

  15. When did, "Spooks" become a racial derogatory term? : r/stupidpol

    From the Oxford English Dictionary, where the slur is listed as the third-most common use of the term: slang (originally and chiefly U.S.). A derogatory term for a black person.1945 L. Shelly Hepcats Jive Talk Dict. 17/2 Spook (n), frightened [banned word].1953 K. Tennant Joyful Condemned xxvii. 262 The boss of the ward..was doing time for going with 'spooks'—[banned word].1966 New ...

  16. The word "spooky" is actually a slur? What about for ...

    Spook has, but it's other meaning of a spy is the principal association. Reply reply ... At best, the entire article seems to say, "Spooky and spooked aren't racist, and "spook" has plenty of non-racist meanings, but it has been used in a racist fashion in the past. If you aren't careful using 'spooky' you might say something that offends ...

  17. Spook

    spook: 1 n a mental representation of some haunting experience Synonyms: ghost , shade , specter , spectre , wraith Type of: apparition , fantasm , phantasm , phantasma , phantom , shadow something existing in perception only n someone unpleasantly strange or eccentric Synonyms: creep , weirdie , weirdo , weirdy Type of: disagreeable person , ...

  18. SPOOK Synonyms: 130 Similar and Opposite Words

    Synonyms for SPOOK: spy, operative, agent, mole, undercover, undercover agent, secret agent, asset; Antonyms of SPOOK: reassure, assure, cheer, comfort, soothe ...

  19. spook

    spook (third-person singular simple present spooks, present participle spooking, simple past and past participle spooked) ( transitive) To frighten or make nervous (especially by startling). The hunters were spooked when the black cat crossed their path. The movement in the bushes spooked the deer and they ran.

  20. Spook Definition & Meaning

    1 [+ object] : to scare or frighten (a person or animal) The noise spooked the cat. The little girl was spooked by scary masks. 2 [no object] : to become frightened She doesn't spook easily. — usually used of an animal The horse spooked and ran away. SPOOK meaning: 1 : ghost; 2 : spy

  21. spook_2 verb

    Definition of spook_2 verb in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Meaning, pronunciation, picture, example sentences, grammar, usage notes, synonyms and more.

  22. Mickey Mouse, Other Characters Lose Copyright Protection

    The playwright Lindsey Ferrentino proposed a mash-up of titles. "Maybe a production of 'Threepenny Opera' with the character of Mackie Messer recast as Mickey Mouse. Very Brechtian ...

  23. SPOOK

    Meaning of spook in English spook noun [ C ] uk / spuːk / us / spuːk / spook noun [C] (SPIRIT) Add to word list informal for ghost : The film was dreadful - all spooks and vampires. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases Souls, spirits & ghosts apparition astral plane astral projection aura chi ectoplasm haunted incorporeal incubus necromancer

  24. SPOOK definition in American English

    noun 1. a specter; ghost 2. any person suggestive of a specter or ghost, as an eccentric, a secret agent, etc. verb transitive 3. to haunt (a person or place) 4. to startle, frighten, make nervous, annoy, etc.