Attested 1823, presumably from colic + wobble.[1][2]

Alternative theories are that it derives from colly (coal dust), via the putative sense “ill from breathing coal dust”,[1] or that it is a corruption of cholera.[3] The first attestation (a mention, not a usage) is in the 1823 edition of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.[1]


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ˈkɒliˌwɒbl̩z/
  • (file)


collywobbles pl (plural only)

  1. (informal) Stomachache or stomach upset. [From 1823]
    Petunia's off school today with a touch of the collywobbles.
    • 1823, Pierce Egan (editor), Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,:
      Collywobbles, the gripes.
    • 1895 [1894 September 10], Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima Letters, Chapter XLIII, To My Dear Colvin,
      I know I have something else to say to you, but unfortunately I awoke this morning with collywobbles, and had to take a small dose of laudanum with the usual consequences of dry throat, intoxicated legs, partial madness and total imbecility; and for the life of me I cannot remember what it is.
    • 1897, William Somerset Maugham, chapter 3, in Liza of Lambeth:
      'I deeply regret,' answered Liza, 'but my royal 'ighness 'as got the collywobbles.'
    • a. 1915, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chapter 1, serialised in The Egoist between 1914-15,
      The prefect was there again and it was his voice that was saying that he was to get up, that Father Minister had said he was to get up and dress and go to the infirmary. And while he was dressing himself as quickly as he could the prefect said:
      — We must pack off to Brother Michael because we have the collywobbles!
    • 1917, Henry Handel Richardson, Australia Felix, Part III, Chapter V,
      "D'ye hear, Richard? Now's your chance," repeated Ned, not to be done. "A very different thing this, I can tell you, from running round dosing people for the collywobbles. I know men who are raising the splosh any way they can to get in."
  2. (informal) Anxiety, fear, uneasiness.
    I don't like walking through the forest at night. It gives me the collywobbles.




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gary Martin (1997–), “The collywobbles”, in The Phrase Finder, retrieved 26 February 2017.
  2. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2021), “collywobbles”, in Online Etymology Dictionary, retrieved 26 February 2017.
  3. ^ collywobbles”, in Merriam–Webster Online Dictionary.