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The “Heebie-jeebies”

Have you ever heard the phrase “heebie-jeebies”? This silly-sounding phrase means “a feeling of anxiety, illness, or apprehension.” Neither “heebie” or “jeebie” mean anything by themselves.

During the 1920s in the United States of America, many similar phrases became popular. For example, “hocus-pocus,” “the bee’s knees,” and “mumbo-jumbo.” These kinds of nonsensical rhyming words are called rhyming reduplications.

“Heebie-jeebie” first appeared in print in a 1923 cartoon in the New York American. It was made by William Morgan “Billy” de Beck. The phrase caught on quickly and soon became very popular. It started showing up in advertisements as early as 1924.

And it remains popular even today! For example:

That movie gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Related: Check out our common expression exception for more expressions.

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By Patrice Riley

Patrice Riley is the pen name of Dr. Deborah Riley. She is a retired English professor that enjoys grammar, literature, and all things writing.

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