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The meaning "spell of nervousness", recorded since 1896, stems perhaps from the woollies, a dialectal term for "nervous uneasiness", probably in reference to the physical itchiness of wool garments.
willies pl (plural only)
- (colloquial, with "the") A feeling of nervousness or fear.
- Staying in the haunted house gave me the willies.
- 1974, Joseph Heller, Something happened, page 3:
- I get the willies when I see closed doors. Even at work, where I am doing so well now, the sight of a closed door is sometimes enough to make me dread that something horrible is happening behind it, something that is going to affect me adversely.
- (anxiety): creeps, heebie-jeebies, collywobbles
- (anxiety): see Thesaurus:fear
- Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “willies”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.