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Horror , horror or creeps are expressions of upscale slang for a heightened sense of fear or horror. This is usually linked to the perception of something sinister , disgusting or supernatural .

Word origin

From the Indo-European root g̑her (s) - (= “ starren ”, “quake”) verbs like grûson (= “to feel horror”, “to feel horror”) and adjectives like griusig (= “gruesome”, “ terrible ") and in Middle High German the word grûwen (=" shudder, horror, disgust, horror experience ").

Word field

The words in the word field are not synonyms . Although they come from the same root etymologically, the nouns, adjectives and verbs have taken on different shades of meaning in the course of language development. Some have already faded as metaphors, such as the adjectives “ grayish ” or “ cruel ”. Colloquial expressions such as " I am terrified " or " I am terrified " (e.g. having to go to the tax return) are in the process of breaking away from the original meaning. In general, they express an inner defensive attitude towards a highly unpleasant activity that one is unwilling to face. Sayings like “ That's horrible! ”Or“ They don't dread anything ”, which only reflect an emotional surge or characterize the willingness to take on any work task that has already become colloquial general places beyond the original meaning. The original meanings range from disgust, loathing and aversion to "hair-raising" shudder to panic horror and deadly shock.

To “ frighten ” or “ to shudder ” is one of the wishes and experiences of childish worlds of experience that are even sought in tests of courage . They are typically associated with physical reactions such as goose bumps , palpitations, and increased blood pressure. Depending on the intensity, the experiences can increase to horror. The saying that “the hair stands on end” has a real physiological background. In their original meaning, the corresponding emotions can still be found in the words " gruesome " (= "horrific", "terrible"), " gruesome " (= "terrible", "horrific") or in formulations such as " the scene of the accident offered the emergency services a horrific sight ”,“ the investigators made a gruesome discovery ”or when addressing the“ horrors of a war or a terrorist attack ”.

The intransitive verb “ gray ” in the sense of “ taking on the gray color” ( the morning was already graying ) or “ graying ” ( his hair grayed early ) is derived from the color scheme gray ( ahd. Grâwên , mhd. Grâwen ) and belongs to one other word field.

Cultural aspects

Horror is a reaction to the uncanny. It is not only in archaic cultures from which the evil magic or religious significance attribute (see. Tabu ), but also characterized by rationality and science cultures. With the spread of the scientific worldview, however, someone's admission that something was scary to him made him increasingly ridiculous in everyday life: in the course of the Enlightenment , particularly in the course of the Enlightenment, such impulses were increasingly considered to be superstitious , infantile or old-fashioned . The fact that the horror and the pleasure in it have not disappeared can be deduced from the fact that the cinema has given the topic a special genre , the horror film ; Sometimes it becomes comedy-like or defused as a " grusical ". The clichés of these films also include the incredulous, enlightened scoffers who are taught better.


In poetry and the theory of poetry, horror and shudder always played a more or less prominent role as strong emotions . In the oral tradition, ghosts and horror stories are likely to be as old as the pleasure in telling stories . The fairy tale of someone who set out to learn to fear the Brothers Grimm with the repeated utterance of a person deserves special attention here ; who can't be afraid, like everyone else: "Oh, if only it gave me the creeps!"

In the poetics of Aristotle is the shudder ( Phobos ) next to the sympathy or pity ( Eleos ) central moment of the tragic experience of the audience, in this a catharsis to bring about. In this classic definition, tragedy as a genre is always aimed at creating a shudder , which is also viewed as an aesthetic pleasure.

As the final line of the first part of his Faust, Goethe uses the word “horror” in an emphatic sense , with Gretchen's cry: “Heinrich! I dread you! ”In the second part the motif reappears. In the first act, scene Finstere Galerie , Faust calls out to the mothers in front of the corridor :

But in freezing I do not seek my salvation,
the shudder is mankind's best part;
Just as the world drew him the feeling,
seized, he felt deeply the monstrous.

Schiller uses the word as an emphatic ending when his diver warns the whole world not to turn away from joy :

I am pleased, whoever is breathing in the pink light!
But down there it is terrible,
And man does not try the gods,
And never, ever desire to see
what they graciously cover with night and horror.

The Black Romance established in return for this classic aversion to the dark and nocturnal with the Gothic novel and the gothic novel , the epic demanding form of literature for the production of horror. Virtuosos of this genre of horror literature are Edgar Allan Poe or, nowadays, Stephen King .

Other arts

Examples are here in the music the symphonic poem A Night on the Bald Mountain by Modest Mussorgski , in the painting Der Nachtmahr by Johann Heinrich Füssli (see above).

Scientific aspects

Ethnology , cultural sociology , personality psychology and psychoanalysis deal with the cultural and psychological aspects of the topic . Folklore and Thanatosociology examine customs that try to curb the horror of the dead .

  • Freud dedicated his own study to the uncanny ( Das Unheimliche , 1919), in which, referring to his contribution On the contradiction of the original words (1910), he pointed to the hidden unity of the uncanny with the secret: the horror of the uncanny is fear here before the repressed secret as what was once well-known.
  • The bioenergetic therapy according to Alexander Lowen knows the term “schizoid horror”: The schizoid personality development is based on the separation of the ego from its feelings and spontaneous instinctual impulses through appropriate education and traumatic experience. This leads to a characteristic break within the personality; As a preliminary stage to schizophrenia, the schizoid personality shows a rational, but emotionless and at the same time disembodied ego on the basis of a constant, unconscious feeling paralyzing horror.
  • The personality psychology is concerned with the triggers of horror like yucky, frightening, numinous. She examines the (different) effects of dreadful situations and phenomena on the mental state of people and tries to classify the phenomenon in the complex of human emotions and feelings. The experimental psychologist Siegbert A. Warwitz assigns the nuanced field of experience of horror, horror, shuddering, shuddering, horror to the form of fears and, based on their etymological origin, gives them their special place in the category of panic fears, based on their etymological origin in the “spectrum of fears” . He explains the fascinating effect of creepy experiences such as vampire stories and nocturnal cemeteries on children and of horrific accidents (gawker mentality, catastrophe tourism) and thrillers on adults with the phenomena of curiosity and the lust for fear : the seemingly contradictory behavior that people willingly do Expose to extremely unpleasant situations that scare them or make them disgusting, explains Warwitz with the intended provocation of a counteraction: It is about an intensification of the attitude towards life. In order to increase this, a valley of fear is first sought out, from which, after successfully passing the psychological and mental test, freed from the threats and fears, one arrives at a peak of pleasure. The shudder stirs up the emotional state. The happy feeling that follows grows out of the unpleasant situation that is overcome.

The fairy tale of someone who set out to learn to be afraid of the Brothers Grimm puts the old folk wisdom into the picture that man has to master the ability to deal with the gruesome, disgusting and hideous things that are also part of real life, and if necessary learn to do so .

See also


  • Brothers Grimm : Children's and Household Tales . Last-hand edition with the original notes by the Brothers Grimm, ed. by Heinz Rölleke. Volume 3, Reclam, Stuttgart 1994, pp. 21-27, ISBN 3-15-003193-1 .
  • Sigmund Freud : The Unheimliche (1919). In: Collected Works . Vol. XII, Frankfurt am Main 1999, pp. 227-278. Digitized
  • JCL King: making horror . Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main 2005
  • Rudolf Otto : The Holy: About the irrational in the idea of ​​the divine and its relationship to the rational. Trewendt & Granier, Breslau 1917; Reprint: Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51091-4 . Digitized
  • Gerhard Wahrig : German Dictionary , Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1970, Sp. 2572 u. 1573
  • Siegbert A. Warwitz : When pain and happiness alternate. The fear-pleasure theory . In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings. Attempts to explain cross-border behavior , 2. ext. Edition, Verlag Schneider, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pp. 142–167, ISBN 978-3-8340-1620-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Gray  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. ^ Gerhard Truig: German Dictionary , Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1970, Sp. 2572 u. 1573
  2. ^ Gerhard Truig: German Dictionary , Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1970, Sp. 2572 u. 1573
  3. Cf. Poetics, chap. 4 .: Because of things that we are reluctant to see in reality, we are happy to see images that are as faithful as possible, e.g. B. Representations of extremely unsightly animals and corpses.
  4. Alexander Lowen: The betrayal of the body and how to make amends . Bern, Munich, Vienna 1967
  5. ^ Siegbert A. Warwitz: Forms of fear behavior . In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings . 2nd edition, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pages 34–39
  6. ^ Siegbert A. Warwitz: When woe and bliss alternate. The fear-pleasure theory . In: Ders .: Search for meaning in risk. Life in growing rings. Attempts at explaining behavior across borders , 2nd edition, Verlag Schneider, Baltmannsweiler 2016, pp. 142–167
  7. ^ Brothers Grimm: Children's and Household Tales . Last-hand edition with the original notes by the Brothers Grimm, ed. by Heinz Rölleke. Volume 3, Reclam, Stuttgart 1994, pp. 21-27