• jitter •
ji-dêr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb
Meaning: 1. To vibrate, to move rapidly back and forth, to tremble, shake. 2. To act nervously or cause someone to act nervously.
Notes: The noun from this verb is usually used in the plural: the jitters, as to get the jitters before singing a solo. The adjective is jittery. For some reason English speakers take nervousness before a big event to be funny, for we give that state funny names like the jitters, the willies, the heebie-jeebies. The jitters is the most normal of the lot.
In Play: Rather than focusing on the obvious, the noun jitters, let's examine some ways to use the verb: "I jitter the whole month of April: before and after I file my taxes." The verb jitter may be replaced by the more common idiom, "get the jitters". But we can use this verb transitively, too: "Wendy thought she could jitter me by asking for a divorce for Christmas. I told her I couldn't afford anything that expensive."
Word History: No one knows where this word comes from—or is too jittery to say. Since it is associated with a vibrating action such as trembling in fear, we aren't surprised to see it in the word for the fast, nervous dance called the jitterbug. In this word, though, it is far from home. It probably began as a variant of chitter, itself a variant of chatter. Both of these words refer to the short, rapid movement of the teeth in cold weather, the twittering of birds, or the fast, rapid movement of the mouth when people verbally chatter. Those are the dots; unfortunately, no one can connect them with lines of evidence. (We are glad that Larry Brady, the Alpha Agora's Stargazer, doesn't jitter at the thought of suggesting funny little Good Words like today's.)