Curl One’s Hair—From Fear to Fascination

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Alison Page

Alison has worked full-time in the writing industry for over ten years, using her knowledge and life experience to create online content, fiction and non-fiction. Alison has published two novels and has ghost-written several non-fiction equestrian books for a client. Alison has been a full-time professional content writer for almost ten years and loves her work as a wordsmith.

Curl someone’s hair means to frighten or shock someone. It conveys a strong emotional reaction, often of surprise, shock, or fear.

English language idioms such as curl someone’s hair are phrases or expressions typically used in a figurative sense to add more flair and color to speech and writing. They allow speakers to convey complex ideas or emotions succinctly and often with a touch of humor or local flavor.

In this article, I examine the meaning of the idiom curl one’s hair, discuss its proper usage in different contexts, and uncover its mysterious origins. I also provide examples of its use, tips for effective usage, and some variations and related terms and phrases. 

After reading the article, test your knowledge of the idiom with the fun quiz I whipped up for you. Hopefully, the result won’t be so bad it makes your hair curl! Let’s get started!

Curl Ones Hair—From Fear to Fascination

What Does the Idiom Curl Someone’s Hair Mean?

The idiom curl someone’s hair means to frighten someone or shock them. It suggests that the situation or information is so intense or alarming that it metaphorically causes one’s hair to curl.

According to Merriam-Webster, the idiom is used informally to mean “to cause fright, shock, or surprise in someone.” The Collins Dictionary defines it as “to make you very shocked or worried.”

Picture this: someone grappling with unexpected and distressing news, like a sudden financial setback or an unforeseen personal challenge. In the face of such a revelation, the overpowering impact on the individual can be vividly captured using the idiom.

It emphasizes the profound effect of the news, metaphorically causing their hair to curl as a testament to the intense emotional response stirred by the situation.

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of curl someone’s hair is to use a tool, such as curling tongs, hair rollers, or straightening irons, to make someone’s hair curly or wavy.

The idiom’s figurative meaning is to frighten someone or shock or worry them.

Variations of the Idiom

There are many variations of this idiom that can be used instead of the original expression to add variety to your speech:

  • Make one’s hair curl 
  • Enough to make one’s hair curl
  • Make one’s hair stand on end
  • Make your blood run cold
  • Make your toes curl
  • Make someone’s skin crawl
  • Make someone’s spine tingle
  • Make someone’s teeth chatter
  • Make someone’s nerves jangle

How Is Curl Someone’s Hair Commonly Used in Context?

Curl someone’s hair is an idiomatic expression used figuratively in a casual chat with your friends and family. This expression is not considered suitable for formal or business settings.

In the following sections, we’ll explore the diverse applications of this expressive phrase, discover real-world examples highlighting its usage in different contexts, and gain practical tips for incorporating it effectively into your language.

What Are the Different Ways to Use the Idiom Curl Someone’s Hair?

Here are a few ways of how to use the idiom in various everyday situations:

  • Describing a scary situation: “Walking through that creepy neighborhood would make your hair curl.”
  • Expressing disbelief or shock: “That latest political scandal in the news today is enough to make someone’s hair curl.”
  • Reacting to unsettling information or news: “The details of the crime were enough to make anyone’s hair curl.”
  • Describing a creepy atmosphere: “The abandoned house we used to walk by on the way home from school had an eerie ambiance that would make your hair curl, especially at dusk.”
  • Referring to a disturbing image or sight: “The graphic photos of the accident site would make your hair curl.”

What Are Some Tips for Using the Idiom Curl Someone’s Hair Effectively?

  • Understand the context: Ensure the situation you are describing is genuinely shocking or intense, as misusing the idiom might dilute its impact.
  • Choose the correct tone: This idiom is generally used in informal contexts and might not be suitable for more professional settings. Remember to consider this in your conversation or writing.
  • Be descriptive: Use vivid, descriptive language to set the scene or convey the intensity of the experience to help create a vivid mental picture for the listener or reader.
  • Use varied situations: Experiment with using the idiom in different situations that are not limited to disturbing or frightening contexts. That keeps your language choice diverse and more interesting.
  • Know your audience: If you doubt your audience will not understand the idiom, be prepared to provide context or explain exactly what you mean if necessary.
  • Be mindful of cultural context: Remember that idiomatic expressions sometimes have cultural nuances, and ensure the phrase is appropriate and well-received by your audience. 

Where Can You Find Examples of the Idiom Curl Someone’s Hair?

Curl someone’s hair is often used in different forms of media, including websites, movies and TV shows, public speeches, and everyday conversation.

The idiom is also often quoted by various online news publications, like in these few examples:

Florida and California are both big states with any number of pressing problems — including big budgets, natural disasters, and pension debt that would curl your hair. (The Orange County Register)

“I have a glare that will curl your hair,” she admits. (The Spokesman-Review)

“Talk to Dr. Theo. Engelbach, who has lived on the island for a quarter-century, and he’ll tell you yarns that will curl your hair.” (The Houma Courier)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Curl Someone’s Hair?

curl someones hair Ngram
Curl someone’s hair usage trend.

The idiom curl someone’s hair has an uncertain origin. Some believe it is related to the phrase make one’s hair stand on end. In any case, the image is of someone so terrified or shocked that their hair recoils in horror.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Over time, the idiom curl someone’s hair has expanded its use to describe literal fear or shock and any situation that might profoundly surprise or astound someone. It could be used in various contexts, like revealing startling news, narrating an incredible story, or explaining a complex concept that boggles the mind.

Thus, while initially related to terror or alarm, the phrase has evolved to represent a deeper sense of absolute astonishment or bewildering complexity.

What Are Some Related Terms to Curl Someone’s Hair?

For ease of understanding, I find it helpful to provide readers with some related terms to idioms, especially antonyms and synonyms. Here are a few to consider:

Curl Ones Hair—From Fear to Fascination 1


  • Send shivers down someone’s spine
  • Give someone the creeps
  • Terrify someone
  • Shock someone to the core
  • Petrify someone
  • Scare the living daylights out of someone


  • Leave someone unfazed
  • Fail to provoke a reaction
  • Be unremarkable
  • Leave someone nonplussed
  • Induce indifference
  • Provoke no response
  • Fail to shock someone
  • Be mundane or routine

Curl One’s Hair: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned about Curl Someone’s Hair?

The idiom curl someone’s hair, rooted in vivid imagery, encapsulates intense shock or surprise. Its usage adds a delightful flair to English communication, capturing complex emotions with brevity and often a dash of humor. Exploring this idiom’s meaning, origin, and diverse applications enriches our linguistic palette and enhances our expressive capability. 

Armed with this understanding, you’re all set to weave the idiom curl someone’s hair into your conversations, stories, or written pieces. Now, why not let your newfound knowledge shine with our engaging quiz? Just remember, no need to let your hair curl over the results! Enjoy the challenge!