“Collywobbles” means a state of intestinal disorder, sometimes accompanied by a rumbling stomach. It’s also employed figuratively to refer to the fluttering (or butterflies) in the stomach caused by nervousness or apprehension.
The origin isn’t known but there are, naturally, theories about where and when it arose.
It may have been a nonsense word created from “colic” plus “wobble.” “Wobble” makes sense to me, though, because my stomach does feel wobbly if I’m nervous.
The nonsense theory is supported by two early references, used in a humorous way:
– Punch October 1841: “To keep him from getting the collywobbles in his pandenoodles.”
– Cuthbert Bede, The Adventures of Mister Verdant Green, 1853: “A touch of the mulligrubs in your collywobbles?”
The earliest recording of the term is from Pierce Egan’s edition of Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823: “Collywobbles, the gripes.”
Another theory is that collywobbles described an illness caused by breathing coal dust. “Colly” is an English dialect word meaning coal dust. Thus, blackbirds were known as colly birds. The line in Twelve days of Christmas which says that my true love sent to me “four calling birds” should be “four colly birds.”
Yet another theory says it was the result of uneducated people converting the medical term cholera morbus, into a more everyday word. I don’t believe this theory is nearly as good or interesting as the first two.
As a child, I sometimes had the collywobbles, according to my English mother. I liked the word then and still do. It’s what we’d call now a “fun” word, like this one:
Coddiwomple — travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination
I think that’s a great way to travel, though airports sure wouldn’t let me do it.