Send Shivers Down My Spine
Posted by Elyse Bruce on February 11, 2011
When something sends shivers down your spine, it could be a good thing or it could be a bad thing depending on the circumstances.
On July 21, 1961, Sylvia Porter of the Gadsden Times in Gardsden (AL) wrote an article entitled “Fiscal Agencies Get Praise” for the Your Money’s Worth column. It read in part:
In plain words, there was a real risk a fortnight ago that these staggeringly big borrowings might flop and the danger was enough to send a shiver down the back of the most callous money expert.
On June 11, 1905 the Chicago Daily Tribune ran a story entitled “Gypsy Blood Stirs All In Spring Time” and warned that Zingara blood called “every man to woods and fields when nature awakes” with this as a partial explanation on how it happened:
Down the road comes a lusty young voice singing an air that is vaguely familiar to you. It is full of strange minors of curious creepy trills which send a shiver of delight creeping down your spine.
On March 15, 1872, the West Coast Times reported on the Right Honourable Mr. Fox and his private Secretary, Mr. Brown, accompanied by the Chief Surveyor of Westland, Mr Mueller visiting the goldfields not far from Hokitika in New Zealand.
Ablutions were performed on the river bank, during which the snowy water was generally allowed to possess powerful cooking properties; the astonishment of the party can be therefore conceived when they observed Mr. Fox walk down to the river and take a “header” in a deep hole. The sight was enough to send a shiver through any looker on who had just returned from bathing his face and hands in the ice stream, and we could almost expect to see the remains of the Premier floating down the stream in the shape of a big icicle, instead of which he returned to the camp as fresh and as warm and lively as a three old — just as if he had been in the habit of taking an iced bath every day of his life.
Now, it may be that the expression morphed from the nautical mock oath, “shiver my timbers” which became a mainstream comment in 1835. Documentation indicates that “timbers” was the term used in 1748 to describe the pieces of wood that composed the frame of a ship’s hull.
By 1789, the expression “my timbers” was acknowledged to be a nautical oath. Since there’s not much difference between the backbone of a ship’s hull and a person’s spine, it’s likely that the expression “shivers down the spine” was a modification of the nautical expression.