Printable Version
Pronunciation: dibz Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, plural

Meaning: 1. (Slang) A claim of rights to something. 2. A sweet syrup made from dates or by thickening grape juice.

Notes: Today we get two words for the (very moderate) price of one. A thick, syrupy treacle known as dibs is widely consumed in the Middle East. In the West we use the word mostly in exclaiming rights to something, as in, "I call dibs on shotgun!" a claim on riding next to the driver in the front seat of a car.

In Play: Calling dibs on something is laying claim to a right to it: "I don't care if you did call dibs on the last piece of cake, I get it because I'm bigger than you." Although the game of dibs was for children, people of all ages use this expression today, at home or in the office: "Maureen says she has dibs on Mo's parking place when he retires."

Word History: First, the syrup called "dibs" comes from Modern Arabic debs, a word related to dvash "honey, wine syrup" and divsha "molasses" in another Semitic language, Hebrew. Akkadian dishpu "mead" is also a cognate. I call dibs on this photoThe second dibs has a trickier history. It is somehow related to a child's game no longer played called "dibs". This ancient game originally involved throwing a sheep's knuckle bone in the air while picking up others on the ground, an ancestor of today's jacks. It has also been called "knucklebones" and "dibstones". Since we often say, "I call dibs" on this or that, the modern term probably derived from a call one could make in the game of dibs. However, no one is securely sure on this point since no similar call is available in the modern descendants of dibs. (I call dibs on thanking Chuck Hauk of Eugene, Oregon, for suggesting today's Good little Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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