We can be frightened for all kinds of reasons; some are logical, such as a fear of snakes which might bite you, but people can be frightened of all sorts of  things, many of them harmless: clowns, butterflies, clocks, moonlight. We call them phobias, and there are long lists of these phobias, most of them seemingly totally irrational.  However, not all fears can be classed as phobias, and we have lots of different words to describe fear, and even ways to describe the people who experience these feelings.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook I have recently linked up with a friend I used to play with when I was about eight years old. The phrase ‘scaredy cat’ was often used as a playground jibe when I was very young. Bigger and older children might dare someone to do something  – such as climbing up on the bicycle shed and then jumping off into the coke pile – a really foolish thing to do as you would probably end up covered with coal dust and many scratches, and at worst you could break a leg.  So the sensible thing to do was to take no notice of such jibes, but not everyone felt able to stand up to the teasing.

There are all sorts of ways in which, in English, we describe someone as being scared, nervous or of something as being scary. If you are describing the feeling of being scared you might say, ‘it made me shiver’, or ‘it made my blood run cold,‘ which describes that shivery feeling, which can happen if something makes your hair stand on end, in fact you can say, ‘it made my hair stand on end’.  Another cold reaction might be caused by breaking out in a sweat  when you are scared; when the sweat cools on your skin you feel shivery.  

Sometimes fear takes the form of feeling nervous; perhaps you feel as if your stomach is churning. Perhaps you can’t sit still. I used to be a midwife. Often the baby’s father would be present, but sometimes they would wait within call near the entrance to the labour ward. There were a number of seats there, but often these men would be pacing up and down, wearing out the flooring. Nerves can make someone have difficulty in speaking – they stutter and stumble over their words.  Perhaps they keep repeating some action – rubbing their chin, pulling at their ear, or running their fingers through their hair. Very nervous people might be described as ‘being afraid of their own shadows’. They might say ‘I’ve got butterflies in my stomach.’ describing the fluttery feeling they are experiencing.  Someone else may say about them ‘he’s a bundle of nerves.’  The person might say ‘I’m fine, but when I have to walk down the lane past the cemetery  at night it gives me the heebie jeebies .’ In other words they are terrified, and it has a physical effect.

When something is about to happen, such as when those babies mentioned were about to be born,  the fathers might hold their breath, they were so overcome by fear they forgot even this most basic of instincts. There are other times when you migh feel nervous because you have to wait for something, perhaps your exam results, you might even feel scared in case you have failed. That feeling has been described as being ‘like a cat on a hot tin roof.’  You carry on, but with great difficulty and are very uncomfortable. I hope you never feel like that.

Can you think of any more ways you can describe the feeling of “fear”?