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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.



  1. plural of willy
  2. (colloquial, with "the") A feeling of nervousness or fear.
    Staying in the haunted house gave me the willies.
    He knows a bad case of the willies will be our first response.
    Well, the only way I can describe it is just the willies. Like, somebody's watching me.
    • 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.



  • willies” in Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001–2017.