20 Scary Idioms: Spooky Expressions You Ought to Learn

Are you ready to tiptoe through the twilight zone of “Scary Idioms”? Before you get goosebumps, let me assure you, that this is a friendly ghost tour through the world of words, where the only thing that will be haunting you is curiosity!

We’ll uncover the spooky secrets behind sayings like “scared stiff” and find out what it really means to “frighten the life out of someone.” So, grab your linguistic lanterns, and let’s illuminate the playful side of these eerie expressions. 

What are Scary Idioms?

Scary idioms are expressions that we use to describe fear, anxiety, or eerie situations in a metaphorical way. They allow us to convey our feelings about something that scares us without having to be too literal. We often employ these phrases around occasions like Halloween or when recounting tales that have a frightening edge.

Here’s a quick list of some common scary idioms and what they mean:

  • Afraid of one’s own shadow: being easily frightened
  • Skeleton in the closet: a secret source of shame, potentially scary if revealed
  • Bump in the night: referring to mysterious, potentially frightening noises
  • Make one’s blood run cold: to cause extreme fear

20 Scary Idioms: Spooky Expressions You Ought to Learn Pin

List of Scary Idioms in English

Skeleton in the closet Blood-curdling scream
Make one’s blood boil Dead man walking
A fate worse than death Dig one’s own grave
Smell of death Like a bat out of hell
Dance with the devil Ghost of a chance
Scared to death Witching hour
Out for blood Graveyard shift
Bump in the night On a knife-edge
Play with fire In the dead of night
Cutthroat competition Dead ringer

Scary Idioms with Meaning and Examples

Idioms Meaning and Example Sentence
Dig one’s own grave To do something that will cause one’s own failure or downfall.

Example: “By spreading those rumors, he’s digging his own grave at work.”

Smell of death A strong, unpleasant odor is often associated with death or decay.

Example: “As they entered the abandoned building, they were met with the smell of death.”

Like a bat out of hell Moving extremely fast or in a wild manner.

Example: “When the gates opened, the horses ran out like bats out of hell.”

Dance with the devil To engage in a dangerous or risky activity.

Example: “He knew that by accepting the deal, he was dancing with the devil.”

Ghost of a chance A very small or unlikely possibility.

Example: “Despite the odds against him, he still has a ghost of a chance to win.”

Scared to death Extremely frightened.

Example: “When the lights went out, the children were scared to death.”

Witching hour The time of night, usually midnight, when supernatural events are believed to occur.

Example: “They say the spirits come out during the witching hour.”

Out for blood Seeking revenge or intending to harm someone.

Example: “After the scandal, the press was out for blood.”

Graveyard shift A late-night work shift, typically starting at midnight.

Example: “Working the graveyard shift can be eerie and isolating.”

Bump in the night A mysterious or scary noise, especially heard at night.

Example: “Every little bump in the night makes her think there’s a ghost in the house.”

On a knife-edge In a situation of acute tension or danger.

Example: “The negotiations were on a knife-edge, with either side ready to walk away.”

Play with fire To do something risky that could lead to danger or trouble.

Example: “By cheating on the exam, you’re playing with fire and could get expelled.”

In the dead of night In the middle of the night when it is very dark and quiet.

Example: “The thieves broke into the house in the dead of night.”

Cutthroat competition An extremely competitive situation where people are willing to harm each other to succeed.

Example: “The tech industry is known for its cutthroat competition.”

Dead ringer Someone or something that looks exactly like someone or something else.

Example: “He’s a dead ringer for the movie star we saw on TV.”

Scary Idioms in Different Contexts

Skeleton in the closet

This idiom refers to a shameful or embarrassing secret from someone’s past that they prefer to keep hidden, much like a literal skeleton hidden away in a closet.

  • In Personal Histories: When someone has a past they do not wish to be revealed.

Example: “Despite his cheerful demeanor, he had a skeleton in the closet that he feared would one day come out.”

  • In Public Figures: When a celebrity or politician has a potentially scandalous secret.

Example: “The candidate was worried that the media would uncover the skeleton in the closet that could ruin his chances of winning.”

Blood-curdling scream

This idiom describes a very loud, high-pitched scream that induces intense fear or horror, as if it could curdle (clot) one’s blood.

  • In Horror Settings: When someone screams in a terrifying situation.

Example: “In the middle of the night, a blood-curdling scream echoed through the haunted house.”

  • In Describing Fear: When recounting an event that caused extreme fright.

Example: “She let out a blood-curdling scream when she saw the spider crawling up her leg.”

Make one’s blood boil

This idiom is used to express that something makes someone very angry or incensed as if the anger is heating their blood to the boiling point.

  • In Injustice: When witnessing or experiencing something unfair or wrong.

Example: “The way the employees were treated by management was enough to make anyone’s blood boil.”

  • In Personal Conflict: When someone does something that deeply angers another person.

Example: “His arrogant attitude is enough to make my blood boil.”

Dead man walking

 This idiom originally referred to a prisoner on death row heading to their execution. It has come to mean someone who is in an inescapable or very dangerous situation, often unaware of the impending doom.

  • In Business Failures: When a company is heading towards inevitable bankruptcy.

Example: “With all the debt piling up, the CEO felt like a dead man walking.”

  • In Personal Situations: When someone is oblivious to an impending breakup or other personal disaster.

Example: “He was joking and laughing, not knowing his partner had discovered the betrayal—like a dead man walking.”

A fate worse than death

This idiom is used to describe a situation or outcome that is considered to be extremely undesirable or unbearable, even more so than dying.

  • In Dramatic Circumstances: When someone faces a situation of great suffering or humiliation.

Example: “Being trapped in that loveless marriage felt like a fate worse than death to her.”

  • In Describing Extreme Outcomes: When considering the worst possible scenario that could happen.

Example: “For a claustrophobic person, being stuck in an elevator for hours could be considered a fate worse than death.”

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Last Updated on December 4, 2023

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