Word of the Week: Macabre

Word: macabre

Pronunciation: mə-KAH-brə / mə-KAHB

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: disturbing and horrifying because of involvement with or depiction of death and injury

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Ah, the bat. Ambassador of darkness, flitting out of his cave like a winged messenger, sightless specter of the macabre.

– San Diego Zoo Janitor, Friends (Season 2, Episode 12 – The One After The Superbowl)

It’s Halloween, and what better day of the year for horror writers to add a sinister new word to their vocabulary? In the above scene from Friends, Ross is talking to a janitor in the nocturnal house at the San Diego Zoo about Marcel, the monkey he donated the year before and who he was told by the zoo administrator had passed away. The creepy janitor, who’s supposed to be explaining that Marcel is still alive and was actually stolen, instead keeps getting distracted by the nocturnal animals around him, such as the bat he regards as a spirit of death. Horror writers and gothic poets would probably agree with this description; historically feared and misunderstood, bats do have a reputation as “macabre” creatures!

Anything described as “macabre” is horrifying and disturbing due to its depiction of or involvement with injury or death. The word arose in English in the late 19th century and is originally a French adjective, as in Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”). This adjective possibly derives from the biblical name Macabé “Maccabees”, a reference to a miracle play depicting the slaughter of the Maccabees.

Though I don’t use it much myself because I don’t particularly care for the horror genre, I admit that I find the word “macabre” fascinating. Muck like the word “oeuvre“, it appeals to me for its French pronunciation and origin as well as for its poetic tone. After all, doesn’t a medieval artistic genre about the universality of death sound much more poetic when referred to as “Danse Macabre” than “Dance of Death”? If you like reading gruesome scenes or descriptions that involve death in any way, you may enjoy writing some “macabre” details into your own stories! Good luck, and Happy Halloween!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

The Monster Under The Porch (Part 1)

“Mommy, I don’t wanna go!”

“But it’s Halloween, Autumn! You love trick-or-treating!”

“I know, but I wanna stay home this year.” The ten-year-old girl turned nervously to the front window as her mother placed the finishing touch of her costume, a witch’s hat, on her head.

“Let her stay,” said an older boy standing by the front door in a werewolf costume. “Then I can hang out with my friends without having to drag her around.”

“Fred, you promised to take your sister trick-or-treating this year.” His mother gave him a stern look as she handed a pumpkin-shaped candy bucket to her daughter. “You can meet up with your friends after you and Autumn visit all the houses on this street and the next one over.”

“Mom, I’m 13 now! I’m too old to go around begging for candy like a baby! Can’t you take her?”

“Dad’s working late tonight, so I have to stay home to hand out the candy, remember? Just go, it’ll be a good chance for you to bond with your sister.”

“Fine,” the boy sighed, rolling his eyes as he idly swung the skull-shaped candy bucket in his hand. “Autumn, let’s go!”

Fred walked over to his little sister, who had been staring out the window through the whole argument, and took her by the hand. Their mother called after them as they stepped out the door onto the front porch.

“Fred, bring Autumn back before it gets dark, and don’t come home too late! Have fun, kids!”

And with that, the door closed and the children were left to enjoy Halloween on their own.

“Freddy”, the girl whispered as they walked down the front steps, “does the… kid-munching monster really come out every Halloween night?”

A week ago, Autumn had started hearing strange noises coming from beneath her bedroom window. Ever since asking her brother about it on the first night, she had been terrified of going outside for fear of seeing the monster he told her was hiding under the porch. According to Fred, every October the creature would choose a random house to stalk, then appear on Halloween night to gobble up the children who came back with buckets full of candy. Autumn had always been afraid of monsters, and it never occurred to her that the noises might be the work of the wind or a harmless animal, nor that her brother had made up the story to avoid having to take her trick-or-treating.

The siblings paused on the sidewalk and the boy looked down at his sister with a smirk.

“Only after it gets dark”, he assured her, “so we’d better get this over with fast. Let’s start over there.”

Over the next hour, Fred escorted Autumn to each house on their street and on the neighboring street. When the sun disappeared completely, they started heading home with buckets full of candy, and by the time they came within sight of their home, the moon could be seen peeking through the clouds. Before the siblings reached their house, however, they heard voices calling out from behind them.

“Hey, Fred! Ready for the party?”

The boy turned around to see a group of teenagers standing at the other end of the street and beckoning him over. Suddenly awkward, he glanced back at his house before turning to his little sister.

“Listen, I gotta go.” He handed her his bucket. “Take these back for me, ok? Don’t tell Mom I left early and you can have a piece.”

“But…” Autumn glanced nervously up at the darkening sky. “What about the monster?”

“You’ll be fine! The house is right there and it’s not that dark yet. You can make it if you run. Happy Halloween!”

And he ran off to join his friends, leaving his little sister trembling and teary-eyed alone on the sidewalk.

Autumn continued on her way home, trying not to think how much more enticing she would be to the child-eating monster now with twice as much candy on her. By the time she reached the front steps, the sky had grown dark and the street was lit by the full moon and the flickering glow of jack-o-lanterns on every doorstep. To a frightened ten-year-old, it was an eerie and unnerving sight.

The girl placed a foot on the bottommost step, ready to bolt up to the door and into the house, but at that moment, she heard the strange creaking sound from beneath the porch again. Autumn dared to peek into the dark space under the wooden boards… and jumped back at the sight that met her eyes: a pair of bright yellow eyes staring back at her!

Quick as a flash, the child leaped up the steps two at a time, screaming as she hurried for the safety of her house. She was so startled that she tripped on the top step and fell flat on the doorstep, dropping both buckets and spilling candy all over the porch. Two sounds followed: a loud screeching from under the floorboards and the creaking of the front door being thrown open.

“Sweetie! Are you okay?” Autumn looked up to see her mother in the doorway, bending down to help her to her feet. “What happened? Where’s your brother?”

“I’m okay,” said the girl, brushing some fallen candy off her witch costume as she stood up. “Freddy… dropped me off before he left with his friends.”

“Why were you screaming?”

“I…” Autumn looked down at the wooden flooring under her feet. “I thought I saw something. Down there.”

The girl pointed at the floor, still shaking from the scare of seeing those eyes. Her mother looked down in surprise.

“Well, let’s check it out.” And against her daughter’s protests, she stepped down from the porch to investigate, leaving Autumn shaking in anticipation of whatever horror was about to unfold.

To be concluded next Friday

What If? Writing Prompts: Horror IV

With Halloween less than a week away, why not celebrate with some more “What If?” Writing Prompts? To help get you into the Halloween spirit, this week’s batch features new prompts in the horror genre. See what spooky tales you can spin from these ideas! Enjoy, and Happy Halloween!

What If - Parchment and QuillWhat if… your nightmares were actually prophecies?

What if… you suspected your pet of being possessed by an evil spirit?

What if… when you looked in the mirror, you saw how you were going to die?

What if… you heard screams coming from the old abandoned house in your neighborhood?

What if… you had a feeling you were being stalked by a monster everywhere you went?

Have fun writing some more tales of horror!

If you have any “What If?” writing prompt suggestions (for any theme), please feel free to share them in the comments below. Ideas I like may be featured in future “What If?” posts, with full credit and a link to your blog (if you have one)! Also, if you’ve written a piece based on an idea you’ve found here, be sure to link back to the respective “What If?” post. I would love to see what you’ve done with the prompt! Thank you!

Word of the Week: Paralipsis

Word: paralipsis

Pronunciation: pa-rə-LIP-sis

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: the device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject

Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Here’s another word I learned from reading political news articles. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of using phrases like “not to mention…”, “I’m not saying that [X], but…”, and others along those lines. Such phrases are not uncommon to hear or even to say ourselves, as they make use of a popular rhetorical device, but it seems one of the current American presidential candidates in particular tends to use it in excess. It’s no wonder this device is so popular in politics; I suppose if you really want to say something out loud without being held accountable for it later, “paralipsis” is a strategy worth considering!

“Paralipsis” is a rhetorical device for giving emphasis to a subject by claiming to say little or nothing about it. The word arose in the late 16th century and comes from the Greek noun paráleipsis, meaning “omission”. This noun stems from the verb paraleípein “to pass over”, which in turn comprises the preposition pará “beside” and the verb leípein “to leave”.

Having used “paralipsis” many times myself, I confess I had never appreciated the irony of the device before I started writing this post. Think about it: is there a more oxymoronic way of saying something than by explicitly stating you won’t say it? In my opinion, the Ancient Greeks were brilliant to have a word in their vocabulary for this device, which is also known as “apophasis“. If your characters like to emphasize points by ironically claiming they won’t say anything about them, you may be making good use of “paralipsis” in your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

An Evening of Fright

It’s the scariest night of the year.
Monsters swarm in from far and from near.
Try to hide your surprise
If you look in their eyes,
For they’re drawn to the smell of your fear.

Yet the children who wander the streets
On their annual quest for free sweets
Don’t seem fazed in the least
By the sight of a beast,
Just so long as it’s handing out treats!

Glowing pumpkins with faces so mean
Set a haunting and bone-chilling scene.
Bid farewell to the light
And give in to the night!
Have a frightfully fun Halloween!

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