Heebie-jeebies (idiom)

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Heebie-jeebies or Heebie Jeebies is an American English idiom used to describe a particular type of anxiety usually related to a certain person or place. For example, "He gives me the heebie jeebies," or in other words "He makes me uncomfortably nervous." It can also refer to a particular form of intense apprehension, verging on horror. The phrase is often used to indicate that the speaker cannot determine what exactly is making him or her apprehensive, only that something is.

The term appears to share a similarity to earlier rhyming phrases, such as hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo and the bee's knees.

The term is sometimes attributed to Billy DeBeck, citing a 1923 cartoon of his in the October 26 edition of the New York American:

You dumb ox – why don't you get that stupid look offa your pan – you gimme the heebie jeebies!

Heebie jeebies caught on quickly and very soon began appearing in many newspapers and works of literature in the United States and, from 1927 onward, the UK. For example, here's an entry from the Van Nuys News on November 6, 1923, just a few days after DeBeck's cartoon was published:

Bill Alton showed up poorly in center field. The boys seemed to have the heebie jeebies.

The lack of any explanation in either of the above citations seems to imply that the term would have been known to the readership of both publications by the time of printing.

The speed of take-up of heebie jeebies, in a similar way to another coinage that is attributed to DeBeck – horsefeathers – does suggest an origin in the media rather than street slang, which tends to spread more slowly.

The term became part of the language quickly enough for it to begin appearing in advertisements from 1924 onwards.

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