Goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh

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The compound words goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh are interchangeable, though the popularity of each of these expressions has ebbed and flowed over time. We will examine the definition of the words goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh, where these they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh are bumps that appear on the skin when one is aroused, afraid, excited or cold. Scientific terms for this phenomenon are cutis anserina, piloerection, and horripilation. The bumps appear because the arrector pili muscles contract. In human skin, these muscles are located at the base of each hair follicle, and this contraction causes the hairs to stand straight up. Goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh are a vestigial reflex, and are also involuntary. Then phenomenon may be stimulated by being cold, as part of a chill reflex, which would also include shivering and the chattering of teeth. Another circumstance which may serve as a stimuli for this autonomic response is fear. Another physiological stimulus may be a light tickle, such as a stroke along one’s neck or inner arm. A horror movie may elicit goosebumps, goose pimples or gooseflesh, as well as a situation in which someone is truly threatened and must decide on whether to follow a course of fight or flight. Goosebumps that are triggered because someone is scared or frightened may be accompanied by shivers or perspiration, as adrenaline floods the body. Excitement or arousal may also cause the contracting of the epidermis into goosebumps, as sudden emotions play a large part in the mechanism of the sympathetic nervous system. The etymology for the terms goosebumps, goose pimples and gooseflesh is not difficult to understand. They are comparisons to a plucked goose. When a feather is removed from the skin of poultry, a small bump remains. Poultry that has been denuded of its feathers has an uncanny resemblance to goosebumps, goose pimples or gooseflesh. Most languages have a term that compares piloerection to some type of bird flesh. In Dutch and Finnish, it is chicken skin. In Japan, it is a more generic bird skin.

The term gooseflesh is the oldest of these expressions, first seen in the mid-1700s. Goosebumps was coined in the mid-1800s and goose pimples around the turn of the twentieth century. According to Google’s Ngram, gooseflesh is still the most popular of these three terms. Goose pimples was once a close second, until the latter-1900s when goosebumps became more popular. This may be due to the success of the Goosebumps books series for children, written by R. L. Stine. Note that goosebumps and gooseflesh are closed compound words, with no space between the two words, while goose pimples is an open compound word, with a space between the two words.


The research team discovered that those who experienced goosebumps are more likely to foster stronger relationships with others, to achieve more higher-level academic feats throughout their lives and to be in better health than those who didn’t. (The Independent)

On one of those recent trips a small rabbit jumped out of a bush and I felt my entire body break into goosebumps the size of golf balls. (The Sun Chronicle)

It was an immensely popular poem then as it is now and left a listener with goose pimples; more so for those who had migrated from Punjab to the new nation of Pakistan. (The Hindustan Times)

The film literally drew goose pimples from my flesh and the emotions displayed were raw, unbridled and as real as life itself. (Independent Newspapers Limited)

There are genuinely terrifying moments, of the sort that are all too rare in the theater — moments that genuinely raise gooseflesh and cause sickness in the stomach. (Ashland Daily Tidings)

This is a gooseflesh-inducing account of the dysfunctional world of fun, where everyone is having it very large indeed, until it all goes Pete Tong. (The Guardian)

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