AskDefine | Define scarecrow

Dictionary Definition

scarecrow n : an effigy in the shape of a man to frighten birds away from seeds [syn: straw man, strawman, bird-scarer, scarer]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

From scare + crow

Pronunciation

  • a RP /ˈskɛə.krəʊ/
  • a US /ˈskɛr.kroʊ/

Noun

  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. In the context of "figuratively|pejorative": A tall, thin, awkward person.

Translations

an effigy made to scare the birds away
tall, thin, awkward person
  • Finnish: variksenpelätin

Extensive Definition

A scarecrow is a device, traditionally a human figure dressed in old clothes, or mannequin, that is used to discourage birds such as crows from disturbing crops. Not only do crows feed on recently cast seed, they also gather nightly, starting with groups of a half dozen which then unite to form a group of 20 to 30 and so on until the flock is quite large and noisy. It is their habit to return to the same place each night.

History

In the Japanese mythology compiled in Kojiki in 712, a scarecrow appears as a deity, Kuebiko, who cannot walk, but knows everything of the world.
The 1881 Household Cyclopedia of General Information gives the following advice: Machinery of various kinds, such as wind-mills in miniature, horse rattles, etc., to be put in motion by the wind, are often employed to frighten crows; but with all of these they soon become familiar, when they cease to be of any use whatever.
The most effectual method of banishing them from a corn cob pipe field, as far as experience goes, is to combine with one or other of the scarecrows in vogue the frequent use of the musket. Nothing strikes such terror into these sagacious animals as the sight of a fowling-piece and the explosion of gun powder, which they have known so often to be fatal to their race.
Such is their dread of a fowling-piece, that if one is placed upon a dyke or other eminence, it will for a long time prevent them from alighting on the adjacent grounds. Many persons now, however, believe that crows like most other birds, do more good by destroying insects and worms, etc., than harm by eating grain.Henry Hartshorne|The Household Cyclopedia of General Information
Crows can be a substantial problem for gardens in the springtime: they can work down a row pulling up recently sprouted corn to eat the remaining seed/seedlings. In the southern Appalachians another common method of scaring off crows was use of a dead crow hung upside down from a pole.
Modern scarecrows seldom take a human shape. On California farmland, highly reflective aluminized PET film ribbons are tied to the plants to create shimmers from the sun. Another approach are automatic noise guns powered with propane gas.

Other names for scarecrows

In the United Kingdom, where the use of scarecrows as a protector of crops dates from time immemorial, and where dialects were rife, there are a wide range of alternative names such as:

Cultural impact

The impact of the scarecrow extends beyond its immediate utilitarian function. Scarecrows feature in literature and in festivals.
In the 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, the main character attempts to keep birds from eating his newly sowed corn stalks. As a discouragement, he shoots several of the birds and then hangs them in rows, such as English prisoners. The remaining birds are so frightened that they refuse to even remain in the area. While not the modern idea of a scarecrow, Crusoe does remark, "...I could never see a bird near the place as long as my scarecrows hung there." (Crusoe is generally thought of as the first English novel and it is possible that the word "scarecrow" is derived from this moment of scary crows scaring crows.)
Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story Feathertop is about a scarecrow created and brought to life in seventeenth century Salem, Massachusetts by a witch in league with the devil. He is intended to be used for sinister purposes and at first believes himself to be human, but develops human feelings and deliberately cuts his own life short when he realizes what he really is. The basic framework of the story was used by American dramatist Percy MacKaye in his 1908 play The Scarecrow. Scarecrow is a fictional character created by the Australian author, Matthew Reilly - "Scarecrow" is the callsign of Captain Shane M. Schofield who appears in Ice Station, Area 7, Scarecrow and Hell Island.
L. Frank Baum's tale The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has a scarecrow as one of the main protagonists. The Scarecrow of Oz was searching for brains from the Great Wizard. In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz The Scarecrow of Oz was portrayed by Ray Bolger. In the 1914 film His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz the Scarecrow of Oz was portrayed by Frank Moore. Worzel Gummidge, a scarecrow who came to life in a friendly form, first appeared in series of novels by Barbara Euphan Todd in the 1930s, and later in a popular television adaptation.
In the Comic book genre, The Scarecrow is a character in the DC Comics universe. He is a classic Batman villain. Similar characters, known as Scarecrow and Straw Man, appear in the Marvel Comics universe.
In music, British band Pink Floyd recorded a song called "The Scarecrow" for their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, while Southern horrorcore rapper Boondox's stage act incorporates scarecrow imagery.

Scarecrow Festivals

In the UK, the festival at Wray, Lancashire was established in the early 1990s and continues to the present day. In the village of Orton, Eden, scarecrows are displayed each year, often using topical themes such as a Dalek exterminating a Wind turbine to represent local opposition to a wind farm. Norland, West Yorkshire has a festival. Tetford and Salmonby jointly host one.

References

Bibliography

Scarecrow Fact and Fable, Peter Haining, 1986
scarecrow in German: Vogelscheuche
scarecrow in Spanish: Espantapájaros
scarecrow in Esperanto: Birdotimigilo
scarecrow in Persian: مترسک
scarecrow in French: Épouvantail
scarecrow in Scottish Gaelic: Bodach-ròcais
scarecrow in Italian: Spaventapasseri
scarecrow in Hebrew: דחליל
scarecrow in Dutch: Vogelverschrikker
scarecrow in Dutch Low Saxon: Aarteschuw
scarecrow in Japanese: かかし
scarecrow in Polish: Strach na wróble (rolnictwo)
scarecrow in Portuguese: Espantalho
scarecrow in Albanian: Dordoleci i arave
scarecrow in Slovenian: Ptičje strašilo
scarecrow in Serbian: Страшило
scarecrow in Finnish: Linnunpelätin
scarecrow in Swedish: Fågelskrämma
scarecrow in Tagalog: Alay-ay
scarecrow in Thai: หุ่นไล่กา
scarecrow in Turkish: Korkuluk
scarecrow in Chinese: 稻草人

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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