Printable Version
Pronunciation: ji-dêr-bêg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A fast, jerking dance done to 'hot' jazz in the 40s. 2. Someone who jitterbugs or who is high-strung, hyperactive.

Notes: Today's Good Word comes from the swing era of jazz and is widely believed to have originated with Cab Calloway, leader of one of the most famous swing bands. The noun is also used as a usual English verb; just remember to double the G when adding suffixes that begin with a vowel: jitterbugs, jitterbugged, jitterbugging.

In Play: JitterbugJitterbug is a word that never escaped the 40s—though in some US cities it is making a bit of a comeback. As dance crazes come and go, their names come and go with them. We rarely get a chance to use this word today in situations like this: "My grandma and grandpa can jitterbug circles around you and your hip-hop dancing friends." Back in the 40s and early 50s, however, we talked like this all the time: "We jitterbugged at the party last night until we dropped."

Word History: A jitterbug was someone with the 'jitters', who dances nervously or feverishly. We can only speculate as to the origins of jitter. It probably is a variant of an older word chitter, which referred to shivering or chattering teeth. Chitter may have been derived from chatter under the influence of shiver. Shiver was originally spelled and pronounced chiver, so the two may have been blended thus: chi(ver/cha)tter. The change of chitter to jitter is easy. The sounds [ch] and [j] are identical, except that in pronouncing [j] we vibrate our vocal cords. Jitter could then have been a very slight variation of chitter. It originally referred to rapidly vibrating teeth or shivering, but its meaning expanded to anything shaking rapidly.

Dr. Goodword,

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