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."
- (colloquial) What is wrong? Why is this happening?
- Not even thirty minutes after leaving the shower, I start getting itches on my head. What gives?
- (colloquial, possibly dated) What is happening? What is going on?
- What gives with you and Martha?
- (colloquial) How are you?
- ^ 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)."