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

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Tue Aug 26 19:27:39 UTC 2014

A citation I disregarded was "don't go near the Willies" (http://bit.ly/YWxS4z). It's part of a rhyme scheme, but "sillies" seems to more like it was forced to fit "Willies" than the other way around. BB

On Aug 26, 2014, at 12:04 PM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at mst.edu> wrote:

>     My thanks for the replies on "give s.o. the willies."  I've done some =
> checking too and have found a possible candidate for the origin "willies", =
> viz. Willie in the Americanized versions of an old English ballad that goes=
> by several names. Wikipedia writes:
> '"Pretty Polly", "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter"... i=
> s a traditional English-language folk song found in the British Isles, Cana=
> da, and the Appalachian region of North America, among other places.
>     'The song is a murder ballad, telling of a young woman lured into the =
> forest where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. Many variants of =
> the story have the villain as a ship's carpenter who promises to marry Poll=
> y but murders her when she becomes pregnant. When he goes back to sea, he i=
> s haunted by her ghost, confesses to the murder, goes mad and dies.'
>    The name of the villain is Willie.  He's bad enough in the English ball=
> ad but becomes particularly loathsome in the American versions. Steven Harv=
> ey's_Bound for Shady Grove_, 2000, (pp. 96-97) says:=20
>    '=93Come go along with me,=94 Willie insists as he leads Polly into the=
> woods, =93before we get married some pleasure to see.=94  She is reluctant=
> and afraid, bearing that he will lead her =93poor body astray.=94         =
>                                                                           =
>                                                                       =20
>     =91There is, I think,... something of corrupted innocence in what Poll=
> y says.  She knows him and knows she cannot stop him. He answers with the m=
> ost chilling stanza in mountain music, a casual, brutal sentiment, the perf=
> ect foil to her na=EFvet=E9.  =93Oh Polly, pretty Polly, you=92re guessin=
> =92 about right,=94 he says,...=93I dug on your grave the best part of the =
> night.=94=92=20
>     This guy is a real creep, and it would be wholly appropriate if  his n=
> ame was in fact taken to express a feeling of creepiness and fear.  By this=
> interpretation of course, the DT's would represent a secondary development=
> .=20
> Gerald Cohen=20
> ________________________________________
> ADSGarson O'Toole [adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM], Tuesday, August 26, 2014 11:=
> 15 AM, wrote:=20
> Gerald Cohen wrote:
>> So here goes. I've been asked the origin of "willies" as in "give/have
>> the willies." OED lists it as "Origin unknown."
>> It's of U.S origin, first attested in 1896. "To give s.o. the willies' is
>> t o make them nervous.
>> Would anyone have any idea about the origin of this term/expression?
> In the three citations below I conjecture that "the willies" referred
> to delirium tremens (DTs).
> A short newspaper item in 1893 described a lawsuit. One newspaper
> editor named Morris was suing another editor for the large sum of
> $100,000. Morris believed that he was being defamed because the other
> newspaperman claimed that 'Mr. Morris had the "willies"'. The full
> news item given below did not clarify the nature of the "willies". I
> hypothesize that Morris was being accused of alcoholism and the
> willies referred to the DTs.
> [ref] 1893 February 6, Cincinnati Post, Hasn't Got "Willies", Quote
> Page 1, Column 5, Cincinnati, Ohio. (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
> [Begin excerpt]
> Hasn't Got 'Willies,"
> And He's Hot After His "Esteemed
> Contemporary."
> CYNTHIANA, KY., Feb. 8 - [Special.] -
> F.W. Morris, editor of the Times of this
> city, will bring suit against Editor Rob-
> erts of the Lexington Leader for defama-
> tion of character. Editor Roberts in
> commenting on an article that appeared
> in the Times states that Mr. Morris had
> the "willies." The amount of damage
> that will be asked for is $100,000.
> [End excerpt]
> The following two excerpts are from a news story in 1893 in which two
> "inebriates" traveled to Staten Island to go fishing. The friends were
> unaware that a nearby accommodation was a "freak boarding house".
> During a long walk one inebriate encountered an individual with a
> frightening appearance and warned his friend.
> The companion suspected that his friend had "the willys", i.e., was
> experiencing delirium tremens. After encountering more freaks the pair
> ran away in fear. Ultimately, the two did learn about the existence of
> the "freak boarding house" and resumed drinking after a short period
> of abstinence.
> [ref] 1893 October 21, Wade's Fibre & Fabric, Volume 18, Thought They
> "Had 'Em" (Acknowledgement to New York Herald), Quote Page 419, Column
> 2, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View)[/ref]
> http://bit.ly/1tzPjmP
> http://books.google.com/books?id=3DngwAAAAAMAAJ&q=3D+willys#v=3Dsnippet
> [Begin excerpt]
> Thought They "Had 'em."
> "Vichy and milk," said the tall man with
> the Roman nose.
> "What!" ejaculated the man with the full
> beard. "Holy snakes! What's going to
> happen?"
> "Nothing. That's the reason I'm taking
> mild drinks. I'm going to be on the safe
> side. I thought last night it had happened.
> I think so yet."
> "What - the willys?" asked he of the
> beard, pouring out a man's dose of old Kain-
> tuck.
> [End excerpt]
> [Begin excerpt]
> "'Run Bob! fo' God's sake run!'
> "'What's the matter? I asked.
> "'Don't ask me, but run,' and he tried to
> get away. I made up my mind he had 'em
> --you know--the willys. I made him walk
> along with me. We hadn't gone 10 steps
> when we saw something coming. It was
> dressed like a man, but was as thin as a
> skeleton. It went past us quietly.
> [End excerpt]
> In the following excerpt from a story published in 1895 a man named
> Hamilton was attending an uninhibited revelry at midnight with
> "champagne, blonde heads and flashing lights". A "befuddled idiot at
> the piano" started to play Mendelssohn's "Consolation" on the piano
> and Hamilton felt remorse.
> [ref] 1895 October, The University of Virginia Magazine, Hamilton '95
> by Hiram Thomas, Start Page 12, Quote Page 15, Published by two
> Literary Societies of the University of Virginia,  Charlottesville,
> Virginia. (Google Books Full View) link [/ref]
> http://bit.ly/1tFKho3
> http://books.google.com/books?id=3DU-JKAAAAYAAJ&q=3Dwillies#v=3Dsnippet&
> [Begin excerpt]
> He stood dazed.
> What's the matter, Hamilton; got the willies?" asked someone, while a
> thick voice called out unsteadily, "Drop that ---- ecclesiastical tune
> and give us something spicy."
> "My God!" gasped Hamilton, "Where am I, and what am I doing?"
> He rushed through the crowd, out of the house and into the street. The
> cold autumn wind cooled his heated brain and seemed to clear his mind.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson

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