the heebie jeebies

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the heebie jeebies

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:20 am

Any ideas where that one comes from? I've done a bit of a search, but haven't found anything about its origin.

Thanks,
Kate in CT USA
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the heebie jeebies

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:34 am

Ohhhhh BAD KATE.

I forgot to check the Word Detective! This is what he says:

HEEBIE-JEEBIES

[Q] At a recent party, I had occasion to use the phrase "Heebee Jeebees" to refer to something that gave me a "creepy" feeling. I was flummoxed when half the crowd was nonplussed! Actually, I was even more surprised when someone suggested that she thought the phrase was not in good taste because it was anti-Semitic! I am doubtful, but I'm PC enough to worry. -- Chris Kuhn, via the Internet.

[A] I, too, am surprised that half the folks at that party didn't know what "heebie-jeebies" (the usual spelling) are. What are they teaching in school these days, anyway? Nothing useful, apparently. To quote the Oxford English Dictionary, the "heebie-jeebies" are "a feeling of discomfort, apprehension, or depression; the 'jitters'; delirium tremens; also, formerly, a type of dance." Just like the "wim-wams," I'd say, except the dancing part.

As to your worries about "heebie-jeebies" possibly being an anti-Semitic slur, the answer is a somewhat qualified "no." The phrase "heebie-jeebies" was invented by Billy De Beck, a famous American comic strip artist of the 1920's, in his popular "Barney Google" strip in 1923. De Beck, by the way, also invented "hotsy-totsy" (a term of approval) and the wonderful "horsefeathers" (meaning "utter nonsense") in his strip. "Heebie-jeebies" must have caught the popular imagination immediately, since the dance of that name appeared a scant three years later, in 1926.

The invention of "heebie-jeebies" by De Beck was, without doubt, innocent of any racial or ethnic animosity. The only possible anti-Semitic interpretation of "heebie-jeebies" comes from its unfortunate resemblance to the slang term "hebe" (a cropping of "Hebrew"), which is indeed an anti-Jewish epithet. Whether you want to risk possible misunderstandings when you use "heebie-jeebies" is up to you, of course, but the truth of its innocent origin is its best defense.
Kate, ashamed in CT
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the heebie jeebies

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Aug 05, 2004 10:49 am

Interestingly... In the early 1980s a trio of British comedians produced an LP parodying various rock and pop artists of the day, headlined by the "Hee Bee Gee Bees", under whose name the record was released. Their Bee Gees spoof "Meaningless Songs In Very High Voices" actually entered the UK charts.

Simon Beck
London, UK
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