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Enough to make your hair curl

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 19, 2008 at 18:48:

In Reply to: Enough to make your hair curl posted by Carole on March 15, 2008 at 09:32:

: What is the origin of the phrase 'It's enough to make your hair curl'?

It's a fairly modern verbal image, first found by the OED in 1949:
"1949 'P. WENTWORTH' Spotlight xix. 119 And anything like the language--..I give you my word it was enough to curl your hair."

The meaning is to horrify, frighten or shock. In the example above it was strong language that would curl your hair, as is often the case with this phrase. I suppose the image comes from the fact that it takes a lot to turn straight hair curly. It's one of those invented images that caught on. Shock and horror don't actually make your hair curl.

Oddly, another image of how horrifying something may be is that it can cause your hairs to stand on end. This is actually biologically correct, as one effect of fear is to cause hairs to become erect (sometimes called horripilation). This phenomenon is also called goose-flesh or goose-bumps.