what gives

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First attested in 1940, in John O'Hara's novel Pal Joey. The term is considered by the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Second Edition (2013) and several other references to be a calque of German was gibt's?” and/or a Yiddish equivalent. Brian Joseph considers this unlikely, however, and speculates that despite its extremely late attestation, it and the German was gibt's may "allow[] for a reconstruction of a Proto-West-Germanic existential use of 'give', which survives marginally into present usage."[1]


What gives?

  1. (colloquial) What is wrong? Why is this happening?
    Not even thirty minutes after leaving the shower, my head starts itching. What gives?
  2. (colloquial, possibly dated) What is happening? What is going on?
    What gives with you and Martha?
  3. (colloquial) How are you?

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brian Joseph argues that Yiddish lacks a comparable idiom, that German communities in America in Pennsylvania and Texas lack a comparable idiom, that Americans were unlikely to borrow from standard German in the post-WWI, mid-WWII era, and that German es ('s) is unaccounted for in any case. He says: "[It may be] an inherited anomaly from earlier stages of Germanic, persisting into Modern English. This possibility is enhanced further by the fact that a cognate to the Germanic *geb- 'give' root is found in Latin habeo: 'have', which itself figures in an (admittedly late) existential construction with an impersonal form of the verb (3SG habet)."