Learn English – Etymology of “what gives”


Where does this expression "what gives" come from? Especially when used as "what's happening?"

Best Answer

I would think it's rather probable that it is a calque derived from the perfectly idiomatic German phrase "Was gibt's?". You see? "Was gibt's" <-> "What gives" Pretty close. Don't know why the author of the linked source (Brian Joseph) doesn't see this and only considers "Was gibt es?" which you will rarely hear in colloquial speech.

Instead the e in 'es' is mostly dropped, hence: "Was gibts?"

Although the meaning has deviated a bit apparently. In German it can only mean ~ "what's happening?" / "what do you want (from me)?"