There’s a word for it. Coulrophobia – literally, the fear of clowns.

And there has been a sudden outbreak of sightings and even attacks by some who are taking advantage of that fear to create an epidemic.

The trend has hit at least ten states with incidents ranging from simple pranks involving someone wearing a wig and a big nose, to actual attacks by individuals in sinister and elaborate costume and make-up.

Victims of the clown “sightings” report being threatened and chased, sometimes by more than one “clown,” and on occasion with weapons like knives and hatchets.

There have been reports of the creepy clowns simply standing, unmoving, in eerie spots like cemeteries.

Real, professional clowns who work for a living – entertaining at parties, visiting children at hospitals and the elderly in nursing homes, and working at circuses and rodeos say the reports are hurting business and ruining the reputation of the centuries-old character.

“This is nothing to do with clowning, it’s to do with people hijacking a costume and for some sinister reason trying to scare people,” said Bibbledy Bob, a/k/a Bob Bowker, spokesman for Clowns International.

“These idiots are undoing a lot of good.”

Psychologists suggest that most children – and many adults, have a natural fear of clowns, the very characters who are used to amuse and cheer them, because exaggerated make-up disguises the ability to decipher their true facial expressions, identities and intentions. Painted on smiles (or sad downturned mouths) hide the real person behind the big, red nose and Ronald McDonald wig.

The meme of the “sad clown,” adds to the ambiguity of interpreting their intentions.

Beyond that, the unpredictability of clowns’ actions – suddenly spraying seltzer water in a victim’s face, the inexplicable desire to climb into a miniature car with as many clown cohorts as possible and the enormous shoes are enough to crank the creepiness counter to “high.”

The problem, according to law enforcement authorities, is the difficulty in recognizing those incidents that constitute real threats and which are just pranks sparked by the current hysteria.

A child may imagine he saw a clown on the way home from school, but a North Carolina convenience store owner actually did come face to face with a hatchet-wielding man who appeared on his property in clown make-up.

After he was arrested, police found quantities of marijuana in his backpack, but no explanation of why he felt compelled to don the clown disguise or what his intent may have been.

Author Stephen King, the creator of one of the creepiest of all clown villains, Pennywise, has tweeted asking people to “cool it – most of ‘em are good.”

It’s a good bet, however, that the sightings will continue at least through the end of October. That would be Halloween night.

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