fear of clowns


coulrophobia = extreme oder irrationale Angst vor Clowns



“That fools said what others couldn’t probably allowed them a frisson of danger, but the killer clown – first aired in Leoncavallo’s opera, Pagliacci, in 1892 – is more recent. As circus declined in the 20th century, fear of clowns – COULROPHOBIA – was more widely reported, and the killer clown captured the collective imagination, especially in horror movies.”

Emma Beddington — The Guardian (27th March 2024)

Did you


- extreme or irrational fear of clowns

- fear of clowns (= entertainers who wear funny clothes, have painted faces, and make people laugh by performing tricks and behaving in a silly way)

Oxford Languages / Cambridge Dictionary


”Coulrophobia” was likely coined in the late 1980s or 1990s for inclusion in lists of phobias circulating on the internet. The first known use appears around 1997 according to the Oxford English Dictionary.


Keeping Audiences Entertained and Uneasy

Clowns have a rich and fascinating history that spans thousands of years across various cultures. The earliest known clown-like figures date back to ancient Egypt, where African Pygmies known as Dangas entertained pharaohs and royalty in the 5th dynasty, around 2400 BCE. In ancient Greece and Rome, clowns were an integral part of theater,... as a wise court jester using humour to offer counsel.

The modern concept of the circus clown emerged in the 18th century, with the rise of the Harlequinade in English pantomime and the work of pioneering clowns like Joseph Grimaldi. Grimaldi, known as the "Father of Modern Clowning", popularized the iconic whiteface makeup and costume that became the standard for circus clowns. However, the sinister side of clowns began to emerge, with their exaggerated features and zany antics often used to unsettle and frighten audiences.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Auguste clown, with its even more exaggerated features and unpredictable behaviour, began to overshadow the whiteface as the main clown character. Famous Auguste clowns like the Fratellini brothers in France and Coco the Clown in Britain helped to consolidate the Auguste's place in the circus.


The story goes that one day Sigmund Freud was approached by a man suffering from a deep depression:

M: “Dr Freud, you must help me… I’m so depressed, what can I do?”

SF: “Tell you what… the circus is in town. Why not go and see Coco the Clown? He’ll cheer you up!”

... long pause ...

M: “But, I am Coco the Clown!”


- for “clown”

buffoon, clown, comedian, comic, court jester, entertainer, goofball, harlequin, jack-pudding, jester, jokester, laughingstock, merry-andrew, merrymaker, prankster, sillybilly

SMUGGLE OWAD into a conversation, say something like:

“Although the fear is real enough, ‘COULROPHOBIA’ looks suspiciously like a word that has been invented on the internet… and which eventually enters mainstream English.”

Why Support OWAD?

On evenings and weekends, I research and write your daily OWAD newsletter together with Helga (my lovely wife and business partner) and our eagle-eyed daughter Jennifer. It remains FREE, AD-FREE, and ALIVE thanks to voluntary donations from appreciative readers.

If you aren’t already, please consider supporting us — even a small donation, equivalent to just 1-cup-of-coffee a month, would help us in covering expenses for mailing, site hosting, maintenance, and service.

Just head over to DonorBox:


Bank transfer:
Paul Smith
IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

Important: please state as ‘Verwendungszweck’: “OWAD donation” and the email address used to subscribe to OWAD.

Thanks so much,

Paul Smith


More Word Quizzes: