Jeebies

Word(s): 
Jeebies
Phrase: 

Jeebies, ugh, kek, ptah, that was an ill man! 

Page and Line: 
590.19
Book: 
III.4 (pp. 555–590)

The Wake Word Jeebies seems to be in a phrase describing an uncomfortable person. That phrase, "Jeebies, ugh, kek, ptah, that was an ill man" shows revulsion ("ugh") spitting ('ptah") maybe even coughing ("kek"') of  "an ill man."

Perhaps the man has a partial case of the Heebie Jeebies (in this case, the latter half.) Cartoonist Billy deBeck is credited with inventing the term "Heebie Jeebies." The term first showed up in a deBeck cartoon that appeared in the newspaper The New York American on October 26, 1923 with the caption ""You dumb ox - why don't you get that stupid look offa your pan - you gimme the heeby jeebys!" The word continued to be used by deBeck, who revised the spelling to "Heebie Jeebies" within a few weeks. (Billy deBeck enjoyed creating words and sticking them in his cartoons -- he's also credited with coining the words "horse-feathers" and "hotsy-totsy.")

Nervousness, or "the jitters" seems to be a symptom of the Heebie Jeebies. An on-line thesaurus associates the phrase with a host of symptoms, none of them good:  anxiety, dither, fidgets, jumps, nerves, shakes, shivers, tenseness, trembles, and the willies.

What seems bad in a patient visiting a doctor might be stunning on the dance floor. In 1926, the "Heebie Jeebie Dance" swept the nation and the world. Lots of jumps, shakes, shivers and trembles were displayed on the dance floor by relaxed, happy people with no jitters (but maybe a touch of the jitterbug.) How did the Heebie Jeebies make the leap from the comics page to the dance floor?

The answer is Louis Armstrong and The Hot Five. On February 26, 1926, in Chicago, Illinois, Louis Armstrong stepped up to the microphone to record the song "Heebie Jeebies" with his band. According to jazz legend (and Louis Armstrong himself in repeated interviews) when the tapes started rolling, Armstrong accidently knocked the lyrics sheet off the music stand to the ground. Not wanting to ruin the take, Armstrong invented nonsense syllables on the spot to fill in for the lyrics, and the recording featured his improvised "scatting."  "Heebie Jeebies" became the first hit for Louis Armstrong, and became widely thought of as "the first scat record."

As the excellent website "The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong" points out, "Heebie Jeebies" was preceded by "scat" records recorded by Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards (who later was the voice for Jiminy Cricket's Oscar -winning song "When you Wish Upon a Star") and bandleader/arranger  Don Redman. But the tremendous popularity of the record made Louis Armstrong a star, the "Heebie Jeebies" a dance sensation and  "scat music" a popular vocal style. All over the world, singers began just making up words and singing them to jazz.

So did the "Heebie Jeebies" make it to jazz-crazy Paris, where Joyce lived in the 1920s and 30s, and capture his attention? Perhaps. A word made up by a cartoonist, turned into a song with lyrics made up by a jazz musician might have had a great deal of appeal to James Joyce, who was known to make up a few words himself.