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coulrophobia

noun [uncountable]

the fear of clowns

coulrophobic

adjective

coulrophobe

noun [countable]

'… one scene disturbed him: that of giant clown dolls chasing people through the New York subway system … Today he's highly phobic, suffering from coulrophobia, or fear of Bozo.'

Oakland Tribune August 2002

the site also affords opportunities to buy merchandise bearing an 'I hate Clowns' logo,
and play games such as
'Punch-the-Clown'

The term coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is a recent coining in response to a surprisingly large amount of interest in the condition, particularly on the Internet, where websites have been developed which are specifically devoted to the issue. The word has no significant coverage in printed dictionaries, but try an Internet search on coulrophobia and you'll discover a host of websites by coulrophobes (people who fear clowns), the condition being one of the most remarked-upon phobias on the Internet. Much of the interest has originated with a man called Rodney Blackwell – the individual referred to in the above citation – a web designer who was so seriously afflicted with the phobia that he decided to set up a site featuring message boards where fellow coulrophobes could share experiences. The site also affords opportunities to buy merchandise bearing an 'I hate Clowns' logo, and play games such as 'Punch-the-Clown'.

Background – coulrophobia

Coined during the 1990s, the word coulrophobia is based on the Greek word koulon ('limb) and related derivatives suggestive of stilts and stilt-walking, i.e. the Greek kolobathristes means 'one who goes on stilts'.

Not all clowns walk on stilts, however, and in fact discussions of causes of coulrophobia seem to agree that the most fear-inducing aspect of clowns is the heavy makeup which, accompanied by the bulbous nose and demonic coloured hair, completely conceal the wearer's identity. As well as the clown's imposing appearance then, there is also the possibility that the costume may be concealing some kind of darker personality.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 19th May 2003.

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