I became curious about the etymology of the idiom 'make one's skin crawl'. So, I searched for it and found this source. According to the source, the idiom refers to a feeling similar to having something, such as an insect, crawl over one's skin. But then, shouldn't it be the insect that is crawling, not the skin? It doesn't seem to make much sense that the skin can crawl, hence the question.

Why isn't it 'make one's skin crawled over'?

  • Language is not logical. It's not about what makes more sense.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 24, 2020 at 1:28
  • 1
    @CJDennis I understand any language is full of exceptions and logical inconsistencies. But if you simply says sth is sth because it is the way it is, what's the meaning of asking a question in this website? Feb 24, 2020 at 1:35
  • @CJDennis I think language is not solely about what makes more sense, but still it is quite a lot about what makes more sense. Feb 24, 2020 at 1:43
  • I think in this case you're unlikely to get a satisfying answer. The answer is probably "just because". Idioms make even less sense than other phrases.
    – CJ Dennis
    Feb 24, 2020 at 1:46
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    It makes your skin crawl -- sensations of the skin forming ripples.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 24, 2020 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


This is a perfectly normal use of the verb crawl. From the OED, with selected senses and a small subset of citations:

  1. transferred. To be all ‘alive’ with crawling things; also figurative.

    • 1576 A. Fleming tr. Pherecydes in Panoplie Epist. 204
      All my skin cralled with lyce.
    • 1902 R. Kipling Traffics & Discov. (1904) 185
      There's a whole switchboard full o' nickel-plated muckin's which I haven't begun to play with yet. The starboard side's crawlin' with 'em.
    • 1924 P. G. Wodehouse Bill the Conqueror vii. 143
      ‘He must be quite rich.’ ‘Crawling with money.’
    • 1945 E. Waugh Brideshead Revisited 88
      The country is crawling with Communists.
  2. To have a sensation as of things crawling over the skin; to feel ‘creepy’, to ‘creep’.

    • 1880 R. Grant Confessions Frivolous Girl 161
      Kissing a ragged infant or two, whose dirtiness positively made me crawl.
    • 1889 M. E. Wilkins Far-away Melody (1891) 15
      You make me crawl all over, talkin' so much about dyin'.

So it made your skin have a sensation of things crawling over it. It felt a;ll creepy and crawly. :)

For sense 6, they provide a citation from Middle English and in a note suggest a possible French origin:

The first quot. here may really be from French crouler ‘to shake, tremble, quiver, quake’ (Cotgrave): see ᴄʀᴏᴡʟ v.

  • a1400 (▸a1325) Cursor Mundi (Gött.) l. 3567

    Quen þat he [sc. a man] bicomis alde..It crepis crouland [Trin. Cambr. hit crepeþ crulyng, Fairf. wiþ crepinge croulis] in his bac.

So: “When that a man becomes old, it creeps crawling (or crowling) on his back.”

  • Thanks a lot! It clearly answers my question. By the way, do you think it's possible that sense 6 is actually a back-formation of the idiom? Feb 24, 2020 at 5:56

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