From scare +‎ crow from 1530s. Replaced original shewel from Middle English sheweles, from an unattested Old English form composed of scȳn +‎ -els (scīewels). Compare Middle Low German schūwelse and Middle High German schiusel. More at shy.


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scarecrows in a rice paddy in Japan

scarecrow (plural scarecrows)

  1. An effigy, typically made of straw and dressed in old clothes, fixed to a pole in a field to deter birds from eating seeds or crops planted there.
  2. (figuratively, derogatory) A tall, thin, awkward person.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling:
      A consultation was now entered into how to proceed in order to discover the mother. A scrutiny was first made into the characters of the female servants of the house, who were all acquitted by Mrs Wilkins, and with apparent merit; for she had collected them herself, and perhaps it would be difficult to find such another set of scarecrows.
  3. (figuratively) Anything that appears terrifying but offers no danger.
    • (Can we date this quote by John Dryden and provide title, author's full name, and other details?)
      a scarecrow set to frighten fools away
  4. A person clad in rags and tatters.
  5. (Britain, dialect) A bird, the black tern.


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scarecrow (third-person singular simple present scarecrows, present participle scarecrowing, simple past and past participle scarecrowed)

  1. (transitive) To splay rigidly outward, like the arms of a scarecrow.
    • 2006, Ron S. King, Nowhere Street, page 109:
      [] his small frame seeming scarecrowed in the over-large black coat.
    • 2010, Robert N. Chan, The Bad Samaritan:
      An arctic wind whooshes down Columbus Avenue like the IRT express, catching her bags, scarecrowing her arms, and threatening to take her broad-brimmed hat downtown.