When I first encountered the word “spoopy” on late-2013 Tumblr, I took it for a charming spelling mistake that had been turned into a short-lived meme. Nearly a decade after it was born in 2009, the word Urban Dictionary defines as “something that is funny and spooky at the same time” lives on.
The word itself is both of those things—funny and scary—as is Halloween, the only time of year we can appropriately revisit the term spoopy, since it is not yet in the dictionary (Oxford English Dictionary did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why that is the case).
According to KnowYourMeme.com, spoopy first emerged on October 15, 2009, when Flickr user Mike Woodridge uploaded a photo of what appeared to be a misspelled Halloween sign with the word “spoopy” written in skeleton bones (pictured above).
Unlike its less popular contemporary, “creppy” (a misspelling of “creepy”), spoopy stuck around. Examples of lowbrow spoopy use include many Halloween memes. For instance, this Halloween-themed “Doge” meme (versions of which usually involve an image of an enigmatic Shiba inu with funny clip art words pasted onto it):
Or this video of a pumpkin head dancing in what is otherwise a very grim cemetery:
Old Disney Channel original Halloween movies like Halloweentown (1998), its two sequels (2001 and 2004), and Don’t Look Under the Bed (1998) are historic examples of well-executed 90s spoop.
Spoopy can also be applied to modern movies, especially those that follow the trend of mixing comedy and horror genres.
While the Tumblr-era spoopy is usually explicitly funny in a stupid way, the current comedy/film/horror relationship is much more complex. Instead of the kind of gory-but-ludicrous comedy-horror collaborations from the past (see: Chucky), box office hits like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Danny McBride’s Halloween, as well as Donald Glover’s dark comedy show Atlanta, deftly present elements of comedy in a way that leaves viewers uncertain of how to react. Typically they leave us scared or amused or a combination of both, and unlike pure comedy or horror, that reaction tends to evolve over time. At present, there’s not really a name for that feeling. Spoopy, however, gets pretty close.