Saying: Shiver looking for a spine to run up (alternative shudder)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 14 19:41:32 UTC 2013

Here are some additional citations for the disembodied shiver (shudder
or chill) searching for a spine.

The earliest cite I found was dated April 1966. It has already been
posted. There is indirect evidence that Oliver Brown made this type of
remark in 1967. I will send a separate message on this topic.

Here is a cite that has not yet been verified in paper.

Year: 1968.
Title: Gadarene '68: the crimes, follies and misfortunes of the Wilson
Author: Desmond Donnelly
Publisher: London, Kimber
Quote Page 48
(Google Books snippet only)

[Begin excerpt]
A shiver hangs over the Treasury Bench, looking for a spine to run up and down!
Peter Hancock,
ex-President of the Cambridge Union.
[End excerpt]

In January 1970 a writer in Punch magazine used the expression, but he
indicated that the remark was already in circulation.

[ref] 1970 January 21, Punch (London Charivari), Volume 258, "Care,
Baby, Care" by Jonathan Aitken, Start Page 89, Quote Page 90, Punch
Publications Ltd., London. (Verified on paper)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Both are well qualified to speak on our motion, 'Politics is far too
serious a matter for intellectuals.' If we pass this resolution
tonight, our decision will send a shiver running up and down both
front benches looking for a spine to crawl down—so let me now
summarise my arguments and put them in a nutshell, which is perhaps
the best place for them anyway." Etc., etc.

>From this sample of what is euphemistically called Union wit, it is
clear that Union oratory is more likely to empty the seats of suburban
music halls than to fill the green baize benches of the House of
Commons. In politics men rise by their gravitas and sink by their
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1971 January 22, The Spectator (UK), Political Commentary, Quote
Page 5, London, England. (Online Archive of The Spectator) (Accessed on October 12, 2013)[/ref]

[Begin excerpt]
Also Mr Powell could not conceal his contempt at the indecision of the
worthy man who is now Master of Trinity. For the cold shiver of the
political kill had run throughout the group and had not found in Lord
Butler a spine to run up.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1975 December 4, New York Times, New Zealand Premier Robert
David Muldoon, Quote Page 12, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
At one point during the campaign Mr. Muldoon, in assailing Wallace E.
Rowling, the Prime Minister he defeated, said that he saw "cold
shivers running round his body looking for a spine to run up."
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1984 December 10, The Times (UK), The Times Diary by PHS, Quote
Page 10, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
In New Zealand a member was upbraided for calling opponents "shivers
looking for a spine", but in Tasmania, it seems, anything goes.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1990 October 8, Hansard (U.K. Parliament), Lords Sitting:
Environmental Protection Bill, (HL Deb 08, vol 522, cc19-72),
Speaking: Lord Parry (Mr Gordon Parry), (Accessed on October 11, 2013)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
Noble Lords will remember that it was a Welshman—namely, Lloyd George,
the last Liberal Prime Minister and ultimately a Member of this House
as the Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor—who said that he once sat looking
at a shiver moving up and down the Treasury Benches seeking a spine up
which to travel. It is quite often the case that governments have
intentions which are totally defeated by the Treasury's hold on the
purse strings.
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1992 July 16, Wall Street Journal, Campaign '92: Clinton Cruises
to Victory At Democratic Convention by James M. Perry and Gerald F.
Seib, Quote Page A1, New York. (ProQuest)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
In his address to the convention, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, another
presidential contender this year, pledged to "fight with every ounce
of my inexhaustible will" to see his former rival, Gov. Clinton,
elected to the White House. He attacked Mr. Bush and then turned to
Vice President Dan Quayle. "I tell you Americans, compared to Al Gore,
Dan Quayle is a shiver looking for a spine to run up."
[End excerpt]

[ref] 1995 May 10, Hansard (U.K. Parliament), Commons Sitting: New
Clause 6: Handling of Redundancies, (HC Deb, vol 243, cc224-39),
Speaking: Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow Hillhead), (Accessed on October 11, 2013)[/ref]
[Begin excerpt]
As a partisan jibe has been made, I shall say this. When a shiver of
fear went along the Government Front Bench looking for a spine to run
up after Thursday's election, no doubt a number of Conservative
Members as well as Ministers had their minds concentrated on the issue
of redundancy. They will no doubt be hoping for more than 90 days'
notice of their impending demise as workers.
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Oct 11, 2013 at 7:27 PM, victor steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       victor steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Saying: Shiver looking for a spine to run up (alternative
>               shudder)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I temporarily lack resources to do the search but I would look for a
> distinctive occurrence some time around 1974, immediately before or after
> the sacking of Edward Heath as Tory leader following second thrashing at
> the hands of Harold Wilson's party. The expression was supposed to have
> come either from Wilson or members of Heath's own party in reference to
> Heath.
>     VS-)
> On Oct 11, 2013 5:09 PM, "ADSGarson O'Toole" <adsgarsonotoole at>
> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Saying: Shiver looking for a spine to run up (alternative
>>               shudder)
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> ------
>> Victor mentioned the phrase: Shiver looking for a spine to run up.
>> Here is the earliest direct evidence I have located of this comically
>> figurative language in 1966. The word "shudder" was employed instead
>> of "shiver" in this instance.
>> [ref] 1966 April 7, New York Times, "Lisbon Insists on Open-Door
>> Policy in Mozambique Despite Embargo on Oil for Rhodesia", (Special to
>> The New York Times), Quote Page 21, New York. (ProQuest)
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> A right-wing Labor Member of Parliament, Desmond Donnelly, expressed
>> similar emotions
>> ...
>> "What is needed Is the will. At present, there appears to be a shudder
>> chasing around Whitehall looking for a spine to run up and down."
>> [End excerpt]
>> The Penguin Modern Q claims that an earlier citation circa 1943
>> exists. I have not verified this and would like to do so.
>> [ref] 1980, The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations, Edited by J.
>> M. Cohen and M. J. Cohen, Second edition, [Reprint dated 1983],
>> Section Oliver Brown, Page 55, Penguin Books, New York. (Verified on
>> paper) [/ref]
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> A shiver ran through the Scottish MPs, frantically looking for a spine
>> to run up. [The Extended Tongue]
>> [End excerpt]
>> According to WorldCat an edition of The Extended Tongue was published
>> circa 1943. This would be considerably earlier than other known
>> citations
>> Here is information from the National Library of Scotland. Can any
>> list members gain access to "The extended tongue" by Oliver Brown?
>> Title: The extended tongue
>> Author: Oliver Brown
>> Publisher: Glasgow : Scottish Secretariat, [ca. 1946]
>> National Library of Scotland  NLS
>> Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1EW United Kingdom
>> Garson
>> On Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 3:22 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at>
>> wrote:
>> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> > Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
>> > Subject:      Re: SLITHER, n.--another word with two (or 1.5) mommies?
>> >
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> ------
>> >
>> > Ever since George Galloway had echoed Harold Wilson (30 years earlier,
>> > in mocking Edward Heath) in describing the Bush administration as "a
>> > shiver looking for a spine to run up", I can't look at "shiver" the sam=
> e
>> > way. Oddly enough, most online quote collections ascribe the line to
>> > Paul Keating--wrong country, wrong time period.
>> >
>> > It seems one source got it right--and that was a year before Galloway's
>> > memorable speech (also marked by repeated use of "complete cock-up",
>> > which was a novelty in US at the time).
>> >
>> >
>> >
>> > Now, I don't know who coined it first, but I know it wasn't Galloway or
>> > Keating. It's possible it started with Wilson. It's more likely some
>> > other pol said it and it was retold by Wilson. Or it's been around even
>> > longer.
>> >
>> > VS-)

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list