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My giddy aunt

Q From Andrew Morley: I have been asked for information on the expression my giddy aunt! None of my reference books lists it — nor any in my local library. Do you have any ideas, please?

A There seems to have been a fashion at the end of the nineteenth century for using the word giddy as an intensifier. So, from Kipling’s Stalky and Co of 1899: “King’ll have to prove his charges up to the giddy hilt”.

The first example of the expression that I’ve been able to find for sure is from the Journal of a Disappointed Man of 1919, by W N P Barbellion (a pseudonym for Bruce Cummings). However, it’s also been suggested that it was used in that archetypal saga of giddy auntdom, Brandon Thomas’s play Charley’s Aunt, first performed in 1892, but I haven’t been able to check.

This use of giddy harks back to the idea of something or someone lightheartedly or exuberantly silly, a sense of the word that dates from the sixteenth century. (Giddy has been around for a thousand years, but at first it referred to somebody who was insane or stupid, and only later shifted to its modern main sense of experiencing vertigo or dizziness.)

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Feb. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 5 February 2000.