So, I thought having the collywobbles was the same as having the heebie-jeebies i.e. being a bit scared of something (like spiders or lack of wi-fi coverage). And while that is one of its more common uses nowadays, it used to mean an upset stomach or, as I prefer to call it, the squiddly dits.

No one’s entirely sure where ‘collywobbles’ came from, but it might have some fairly dark origins. One is that the ‘colly’ bit comes from the Middle English word for ‘coal’. This refers to the dodgy stomach you get from breathing in coal dust down in the pits or up a chimney if you’re an urchin. Or it might be a corruption of the medical term for cholera, ‘cholera morbus’.

‘Collywobbles’ first turned up in a book called ‘A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ by Francis Grose which was published in 1785. It’s a compendium of slang that Samuel Johnson (he of dictionary-writing fame) decided was too rude or just not good enough for his book. Grose apparently compiled it by boozing with the hoi-polloi in less salubrious areas of London. Now that’s my kind of academic research.

You can find the whole of ‘A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue’ here. There’s also an excellent list of now-obsolete slang including ‘captain queernabs’ (a ‘shabby ill-dressed fellow’) and ‘chimping merry’ (to be ‘exhilarated with liquor’ – which I imagine Mr Grose was after all that ‘research’).