Theatre Drops The Word ‘Spooky’ Over Racism Fears

by : Hannah Smith on :
Theatre Drops The Word 'Spooky' Over Racism FearsAlamy

One of the UK’s most prominent theatres has said it will stop using the word ‘spooky’ after it was pointed out that it has previously been used as a racial slur.

The National Theatre of Scotland said it had taken the decision to drop the word as part of its move to tackle the use of prejudicial and discriminatory language, after it was flagged that variations of the term have historically been used to negatively describe Black people.

The word 'spook' has a racist past (Alamy)Alamy

‘Spooky’ stems from the word ‘spook,’ which itself originates from the Dutch word for ghost. Most people associate the terms with Halloween – though the word ‘spook’ has also been used to refer to spies – however, according to academics and historians, there are a number of examples of ‘spook’ being used in a far more derogatory context.

The Times reports that the word may first have been used as a slur during the Second World War, when military officers would apparently describe Black pilots as ‘spooks.’

As recently as ten years ago, US store chain Target was forced to apologise after selling Black action figures called ‘spook drop parachuters,’ while Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain centres around a professor’s use of the word to describe two Black students.


In a statement to the Sunday Mail, a spokesperson for the National Theatre of Scotland said:

NTS is committed to fighting racism so need to be extra careful in the language it uses. It’s always been a really white organisation but it is trying to change that and become more diverse.

There might not be many people who know that ‘spooky’ can also be used as racist but, even if it’s one person who is offended, it’s one person too many.

Halloween (Alamy)Alamy

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With the majority of people unlikely to be aware of the historical connotations of the term, there’s an ongoing debate as to whether it should be considered inappropriate to use ‘spooky’ in a non-racial context.


Speaking to NPR, sociolinguist Renee Blake said that while in some situations it might not be offensive to use the word, it still was important to ‘be thoughtful about the fact that [spook] now might have the connotation of referring to a Black person in a disparaging way.’

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Hannah Smith

Hannah is a London-based journalist covering news and features for UNILAD. She's especially interested in social and political activism.

Topics: News, Now, Spooky


The Times
  1. The Times

    Spooky? Theatre fears word has racist past