Query (3rd and final try): Origin of "give/have the willies"

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Aug 26 18:56:50 UTC 2014

Garson O'Toole has provided some nice citations showing early uses of "the willies."

Looking a bit more, I have found other citations in the nineteenth century that talk about the Willies as supernatural beings. In addition to these, a few more nineteenth-century citations can be found for "the villies" on Google Books (http://bit.ly/1zzMK4b).

In 1841, the opera "Giselle, or The Wilis" (or "La Giselle") was first performed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giselle) in Paris. Wikipedia says the idea of the wilis in the opera comes from "Elementargeister" (1837) by Heinrich Heine and "Les Orientales" (1828 or 1829) by Victor Hugo. Wikipedia says the opera was "hugely popular," staged across Europe, Russia and the US.

"La Giselle" appears in "Beauties of the Opera and Ballet" (not dated), and the word "Wilis" appears on five pages (http://bit.ly/1vjqMoi).

In 1846, "The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine," vol. 27 has a review of "Giselle" with mention of the Willies (http://bit.ly/YWuCWT), and "The Pioneer: Or, California Monthly Magazine" does the same in 1854 (http://bit.ly/VPIvnC).

In 1848, "The Gentleman's Magazine" mentions the Wilis as being "the most peculiar images of Servian [i.e., Serbian] fantasy" (http://bit.ly/1rxZrht).

In 1862, "The Queen of the Danube: A Story of Montenegro" by X.B. Saintine, translated from French by Anne T. Wood, mentions the Willies as being Servian (http://bit.ly/1qqlN1w).

The wilis tale is told in "A Norseman's Pilgrimage" (1875) by Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen with the spelling "Willies" (http://bit.ly/1qqh3sN).

In 1879, the Extravaganzas of J.R. Planché, esq., mentions the Wilis (http://bit.ly/YWvElU).

FWIW, there is also "a general meeting of the Willies o' the Wisp" in "London Society," vol. 11 (1867) (http://bit.ly/1q2i76n), and in 1883, there is mention of birds called "willies" in "The Sunday Magazine" (http://bit.ly/1wxXC6j).

Still no direct tie to the expression "the willies," but it seems clear that the willies/villies were well known as supernatural beings throughout at least most of the nineteenth century.

Benjamin Barrett
Formerly of Seattle, WA

Learn Ainu! https://sites.google.com/site/aynuitak1/home

On Aug 23, 2014, at 8:41 PM, Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at ix.netcom.com> wrote:

> The Inspector, Literary Magazine and Review, Volume 2, London: 1827, has =
> a story called "The Willi-Dance. / An Hungarian Legend." and says =
> (http://bit.ly/1ps7xFC):
> -----
> More than all, loved Emelka to hear the legend of the Willi-dance, which =
> the crone always thus began=97" Every maiden "who dies, when she is =
> betrothed, is called a Willi. The Willies wander "restless on the earth, =
> and hold their nightly dances wherever roads "meet; if any man then =
> meets them, they dance with him till he dies; "he is then the bridegroom =
> of the youngest Willi, who thereby at last "is enabled to rest; such a =
> one is my sister. Ah! often have I seen "her in the moon-beam,"=97and =
> then followed the tale of the lover, the sorrows and the death of the =
> poor young maiden. In stories like this, of the region of spirits, the =
> luckless Emelka sought to forget the bitterness of earthly suffering.
> -----
> See also =
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernatural_beings_in_Slavic_folklore.
> I have no proof that this is the origin, but it certainly seems like a =
> good starting point.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Formerly of Seattle, WA
> Learn Ainu! https://sites.google.com/site/aynuitak1/home
> On Aug 23, 2014, at 8:24 PM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at mst.edu> =
> wrote:
>> This is my final attempt. (My earlier two messages included quoted =
> material=3D
>> from OED3; maybe that's what made my
>> =20
>> first two e-mails come out as gibberish.)
>> =20
>> =20
>> =20
>> So here goes. I've been asked the origin of "willies" as in "give/have =
> the =3D
>> willies." OED lists it as "Origin unknown."
>> =20
>> It's of U.S origin, first attested in 1896. "To give s.o. the willies' =
> is t=3D
>> o make them nervous.
>> =20
>> =20
>> =20
>> Would anyone have any idea about the origin of this term/expression?
>> =20

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list