The spirit is "willies"

Awhile back, I promised — to no particular person — that I would look up the origin of “the willies.” I thought it might be interesting to sit down sometime and find out what led the first person to say: “That _____ gives me the willies.” Well, interesting as that might be, I never found out who was the first person to utter those words. But I did unearth a few tidbits.

Before any discussion as to the etymology of “the willies,” one must first define what “it” is. Bill Clinton led the discussion last time and I don’t think we arrived at an answer. But the meaning of the “willies” is, according to “The American Heritage Dictionary:”

PLURAL NOUN: Slang Feelings of uneasiness. Often used with the: The dark, dank cave gave me the willies.

Me too. Dank, in and of itself, gives me the willies just writing it.

The sources I checked out, all one of them, were pretty unanimous in their contention that the origin of “the willies” is not known. However, “The Word Detective” said one dictionary traces “the willies” to:

” … the slang expression “willie-boy,” meaning “sissy” — presumably the sort who would be prone to the “willies.”

Hmm, from obscure to abstruse to downright enigmatic.

The passage went on to say:

“The ‘willies’ in the ballet (‘Giselle’) take their name from the Serbo-Croatian word ‘vila’ (in English, ‘wili’ or ‘willi’) meaning a wood-nymph or fairy, usually the spirit of a betrothed girl who died after being jilted by her lover.”

Thus, the writer deduced that spirit “willi” became the “willies,” or feeling that something weird is happening.

That certainly sounds logical to me. I thought that it might have something to do with Willie Nelson, but I don’t know for certain whether he’s ever been to the Balkans. So, case closed.

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