Shocking news

Posted by Henry on November 29, 2004

In Reply to: Peter the Mop-head posted by Smokey Stover on November 27, 2004

: : : : : : : : : : : : "On it[balcony] sat a shock-haired young man gazing upward with a bold, urgent look..." from The Master and Margarita

: : : : : : : : : : : : Has anyone heard this expression before? What does it mean? My guess would be shock-haired = white.

: : : : : : : : : : : My intrepretation would be a wild haired person with hair sticking out in all directions (similar to the pictures of people connected to a static machine with their hair standing straight out).

: : : : : : : : : : I picture a mop of thick hair. On an old episode of The Simpsons, Homer caught a big fish in a lake and either let it go or lost it. Anyway, the legend grew until Homer was described as having, among other heroic physical attributes, "...a shock of hair-- red, like the fires o' hell".

: : : : : : : : : I think the original image meant to be conjured up by "shock-haired" is agricultural rather than electrical. That is, the hair is standing on end and disordered like a shock of wheat.

: : : : : : : : I immediately thought of shocks of grain when I read the subject line. I thought of color as much as arrangement.

: : : : : : : Albert Einstein leapt to my mind.

: : : : : : Found this on

: : : : : : shock-headed
: : : : : : \Shock"-head`ed\, a. Having a thick and bushy head of hair.
: : : : : : Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

: : : : : : shock-headed
: : : : : : adj : having a shock (or untidy mass) of hair; "shock-headed teenagers"
: : : : : : Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

: : : : : I agree with ESC. It's not unusual here to describe someone as having a shock of hair - indicating they have lots of thick hair.

: : : : I don't know what author Platypus is quoting, but my guess is that he (the author) is not familiar with the normal usage of shock in regard to hair. I have often heard of shocks of hair, meaning clumps or masses, and I don't doubt that ultimately that usage comes from the clumping of sheaves of wheat or bundles of corn into shocks. You can still see this type of agriculture practiced in several parts of Pennsylvania, and on demonstration farms elsewhere. As for the notion that the hair is spiky as though it were suffering from electrical shock, like Clay Aiken's hair, perhaps. Who can read the author's mind? But shocks of hair are just thick clumps. I'm not even sure they have to be thick. I don't know, but I suspect that the use of "shock-headed" is not very common. At least, I've never heard it, never read it (except on this site). It's not, in my mind, a very useful word if it gives different readers different ideas of what it might mean. SS

: : : The word was once well-known from the title of a children's book, one which I enjoyed as a child.

: : : The children's book "Der Struwwelpeter" written by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, was first published in Frankfurt in 1945 and was translated into English as "Shock-Headed Peter".

: : : 'Perhaps the best-known German children's book, it's a collection of sometimes ghastly, always gleefully macabre cautionary tales which has been the secret delight of children for over a century and a half.'

: : Henry has reminded us of one of the best-known appearances of the word "shock-headed." He made a typo, I think, that caused him to write 1945 when he meant 1845. (Struwwelpeter does not mean Shockheaded Peter, but something closer to Slovenly Peter, also used as a title in translation.) The OED cites Sir Walter Scott as the first to put "shock-head" in print, and defines it as a "head covered with a thick crop of hair." Shock-head may not be heard much any more, but cautionary tales continue to be favorites with children. Hilaire Belloc, especially as enhanced by Edward Gorey, remains a giant in this field (1906?), and a good modern author in the genre is Lemony Snicket. There are also cautionary tales for "naughty girls," such as "The inflammable maiden." SS

: Well, folks, if you're still interested, Struwwelpeter uses a variant or regional form of German, or perhaps a quaint or archaic word. The equivalent in Modern High German is Strubbel, and it does indeed mean tousled or a mop-head (Srubbelkopf). So "schock-headed Peter" is good. Mop-headed might be better understood in modern English, but in 1875 or so shockhead was doubtless a well-known word. Maybe it still is, but not by me. SS

Thanks SS. Someone with striking hair might still be described as having, say, a shock of red hair. I wouldn't regard mop-headed as any more popular.