18 Spooky Halloween Phrases From Around the U.S.

Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween has been celebrated in the United States since the 1800s, thanks to Irish and Scottish immigrants who brought over their All Hallows' Eve traditions. So it's no surprise that sayings in American English have risen around the holiday, including these 18 spooky regionalisms we’ve gathered in our continued partnership with the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).

1. Holly Eve

In Arkansas or Missouri in the 1930s, West Virginia in the 1940s, or Pennsylvania in the 1950s, you might have referred to Halloween as Holly Eve. Hence, says DARE, a Holly Eve-er is “one who goes out on Halloween.”

2. Poke of Moonshine

Another name for the jack o' lantern, at least in 1930s Connecticut. A peak in the Adirondacks shares the name and, according to The New York Times, it might come from the Algonquin Indian words pohqui, meaning "broken," and moosie, meaning "smooth," possibly referring to "the level summit and stunning east-facing cliffs.” In the case of a jack o’ lantern, it could possibly refer to its carved and intact surfaces. In South Carolina, to move like a poke of moonshine is to move slowly and lazily.

3. False Face

The term false face originated in the late 18th century, according to DARE, to mean a mask in general, and in the early 1900s came to refer specifically to a Halloween mask. A 1911 ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said, “Halloween Masks—We have that false face you want for Tuesday night, grotesque and funny.”

The term seems to have been popular in the 1940s and ‘50s, with DARE quotes from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana, and Texas. One individual states that their grandmother, who was born in New York City in the 1880s, used “‘false face’ (stress on ‘false’) as her ordinary word for ‘Halloween mask,’” and while the mask “didn’t have to be worn specifically on or for Halloween … it did have to cover the entire face.”

4. and 5. Help the Poor / Soap or Eats

While trick or treat is the norm for bonbon-begging, in 1930s and '40s Detroit, you might have also heard help the poor. Over in parts of California, Ohio, and Minnesota, the candy call might have been soap or eats or soap or grub. According to a Wisconsin resident, soap has to do with “threatening to soap windows” if goodies aren’t given.

6. Penny Night

Another trick or treat alternative is penny night, at least in southwest Ohio. The term also refers to the Halloween celebration itself. We're not sure what pennies have to do with it except as sweets stand-ins.

7. Beggar's Night

Parts of the North and North Midland— especially Ohio and Iowa—call Halloween like it is: beggars’ night. “Beggars’ Night, how ’bout a bite?” you might have heard in the Buckeye State. Beggars' night could be celebrated on “one or more days” the week before Halloween, much to the annoyance of several of those quoted in DARE. From a 1936 issue of the Piqua Daily Call in Ohio: “If the kids would get organized and pick on one particular date for their Beggar’s Night, we could brace ourselves for the onslaught.”

One Ohio resident said they had beggar’s night on October 30, on which they said, “Please help the poor,” while on Halloween they said, “Trick or treat.” The same practice also occurred on Thanksgiving eve, according to quotes from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York City.

8. Devil's Night

As a Michigan resident, you might have called the night before Halloween devil’s night, during which, according to quotes in DARE, kids might vandalize and set fire to abandoned buildings. In 1995, Detroit rechristened devil's night as Angel's Night, a community-organized event in which tens of thousands of volunteers "help patrol and surveil the streets during the days leading up to Halloween."

9. Mischief Night

To New Jerseyans, Halloween eve has always been mischief night, on which you could expect to get TP’d, egged, or spray-painted. According to quotes in DARE, additional activities might include doorbell ringing, gate removing (hence, gate night in some parts of the Northeast), car window soaping, pumpkin stealing, and porch furniture moving.

In England, mischief night refers to the prank-filled evenings of April 30 (May Day eve), October 30, or November 4, the night before Guy Fawkes Day. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation of the term is from 1830, while DARE’s is from 1977. It’s not clear exactly when the New Jersey/southeastern Pennsylvania meaning of mischief night originated. The earliest record we could find was from 1947 in an article, “Passaic Takes the 'Mischief' Out of ‘Mischief Night.’”

A variation on mischief night might be mystery night, attested in Essex and northern Middlesex counties, as well as other parts of north and central Jersey.

10. and 11. Goosey Night / Picket Night

Garden State alternatives to mischief night include goosey night and picket night. While picket night might come from “the custom of producing noise by running a stick along a picket fence,” according to Lexical Variation in New Jersey by Robert Foster, it’s unclear where goosey night comes from. If we had to guess, perhaps from goose, meaning to poke or startle.

12. Cabbage Night

In some northern parts of the United States, October 30 is known as cabbage night, during which, according to DARE, “young people throw cabbages and refuse on people’s porches, and play other pranks.” Why cabbages? It might have to do with an old Scottish tradition in which young women would pull up cabbages to inspect their stalks. The thickness of the stalks supposedly predicted whether their future husbands would be thin or portly. Then they would inexplicably hurl the vegetables at neighbors' homes.

13. Clothesline Night

In parts of 1950s Vermont, clotheslines were apparently the victim of much TP'ing on Halloween eve. Hence, clothesline night.

14. and 15. Corn Night / Doorbell Night

Corn was the projectile of choice in Ohio areas in the late 1930s. One resident remembered the custom of celebrating the night before Halloween by chucking “dried, shelled corn” at porches. In other parts of the Buckeye State, ringing and running is preferred on what’s known as doorbell night.

16. Light Night

Over in New York, mischief makers would “fling rocks at bare street lights,” says one resident—hence, light night.

17. Moving Night

After a raucous moving night in Baltimore, you might find anything not nailed down—including gates, flower pots, and porch furniture—moved to a neighboring yard, down the block, or even on the next block.

18. Ticktack Night

The cabbage night equivalent in regions including Iowa, Ohio, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Ticktack are various “homemade noisemakers used to make rapping or other annoying sounds against a window or door as a prank,” especially around Halloween, as well as the prank itself. In parts of Ohio, one resident said, the ticktack noises were from the sound of corn being thrown at windows.

According to Foster’s Lexical Variation in New Jersey, “Mercer County is the home of Tick Tack Night,” where the name is sometimes reinterpreted as “Tic Tac Toe Night” and some pranksters believed they were “called upon to draw tic tac toe diagrams on houses and walks."

7 Facts About Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd at the March On Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd at the March On Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963.
CNP/Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, under a sweltering sun, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered by the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. to participate in an event formally known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. From start to finish, it was a passionate plea for civil rights reform, and one speech in particular captured the ethos of the moment. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 17-minute “I Have a Dream” address—which was broadcast in real time by TV networks and radio stations—was an oratorical masterpiece. Here are some facts about the inspired remarks that changed King's life, his movement, and the nation at large.

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the tenth orator to take the podium that day.

Organizers hoped the March would draw a crowd of about 100,000 people; more than twice as many showed up. There at the Lincoln Memorial, 10 civil rights activists were scheduled to give speeches—to be punctuated by hymns, prayers, pledges, benedictions, and choir performances.

King was the lineup’s tenth and final speaker. The list of orators also included labor icon A. Philip Randolph and 23-year-old John Lewis, who was then the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. (He’s now a U.S. congressman representing Georgia’s fifth district.)

2. Nelson Rockefeller inspired part of the "I Have A Dream" speech.

For years, Clarence B. Jones was Dr. King’s personal attorney, a trusted advisor, and one of his speechwriters. He also became a frequent intermediary between King and Stanley Levison, a progressive white lawyer who had drawn FBI scrutiny. In mid-August 1963, King asked Jones and Levison to prepare a draft of his upcoming March on Washington address.

“A conversation that I’d had [four months earlier] with then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller inspired an opening analogy: African Americans marching to Washington to redeem a promissory note or a check for justice,” Jones recalled in 2011. “From there, a proposed draft took shape.”

3. The phrase “I have a dream” wasn’t in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s prepared speech.

Rev. Martin Luther King attends a prayer pilgrimage for freedom May 17, 1957 in Washington
Martin Luther King, Jr. attends a prayer pilgrimage for freedom May 17, 1957 in Washington.
National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images

On the eve of his big speech, King solicited last-minute input from union organizers, religious leaders, and other activists in the lobby of Washington, D.C.’s Willard Hotel. But when he finally faced the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial, the reverend went off-book. At first King more or less stuck to his notes, reciting the final written version of his address.

Then a voice rang out behind him. Seated nearby was gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who yelled, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!” Earlier in his career, King had spoken at length about his “dreams” of racial harmony. By mid-1963, he’d used the phrase “I have a dream” so often that confidants worried it was making him sound repetitive.

Jackson clearly didn't agree. At her urging, King put down his notes and delivered the words that solidified his legacy:

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream ... I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

King's friends were stunned. None of these lines had made it into the printed statement King brought to the podium. “In front of all those people, cameras, and microphones, Martin winged it,” Jones would later say. “But then, no one I’ve ever met could improvise better.”

4. Sidney Poitier heard the "I Have A Dream" speech in person.

American actor Sidney Poitier, circa 1970
Graham Stark/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sidney Poitier, who was born in the Bahamas on February 20, 1927, broke Hollywood's glass ceiling at the 1964 Academy Awards when he became the first African American to win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Lilies of the Field (and the only one until Denzel Washington won for Training Day nearly 40 years later). Poitier, a firm believer in civil rights, attended the ’63 March on Washington along with such other movie stars as Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, and Paul Newman.

5. The "I Have A Dream" speech caught the FBI’s attention.

The FBI had had been wary of King since the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was perturbed by the reverend’s association with Stanley Levison, who’d been a financial manager for the Communist party in America. King's “I Have a Dream” speech only worsened the FBI’s outlook on the civil rights leader.

In a memo written just two days after the speech, domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan said, “We must mark [King] now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Before the year was out, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy gave the FBI permission to wiretap King’s telephone conversations.

6. In 1999, scholars named "I Have a Dream" the best American speech of the 20th century.

All these years later, “I Have a Dream” remains an international rallying cry for peace. (Signs bearing that timeless message appeared at the Tiananmen Square protests). When communications professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Texas A&M used input from 137 scholars to create a list of the 100 greatest American speeches given in the 20th century, King’s magnum opus claimed the number one spot—beating out the first inaugural addresses of John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt, among others.

7. A basketball Hall of Famer owns the original copy of the "I Have a Dream" speech.

George Raveling, an African-American athlete and D.C. native, played college hoops for the Villanova Wildcats from 1956 through 1960. Three years after his graduation, he attended the March on Washington. He and a friend volunteered to join the event’s security detail, which is how Raveling ended up standing just a few yards away from Martin Luther King Jr. during his “I Have a Dream” address. Once the speech ended, Raveling approached the podium and noticed that the three-page script was in the Reverend’s hand. “Dr. King, can I have that copy?,” he asked. Raveling's request was granted.

Raveling went on to coach the Washington State Cougars, Iowa Hawkeyes, and University of Southern California Trojans. In 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Although a collector once offered him $3 million for Dr. King’s famous document, Raveling’s refused to part with it.

What Happened to the Physical Copy of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' Speech?

AFP, Getty Images
AFP, Getty Images

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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