What gives?

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  • jacinta

    Senior Member
    USA English
    What gives? to me means: What is the problem? What's the matter? What's going on? in the sense that something bad has possibly happened. It is a little more than just "What's up?"

    Say that my brother was supposed to go to a concert with a friend. His friend calls and asks where my brother is. He never showed up at the concert. Later, I find him lying on the couch. I ask him, "What gives? I thought you were going to the concert?"
     

    Lakeview

    Senior Member
    Canada - English
    timpeac said:
    = what's up = what's going on = how are things etc
    'What gives?' is more of an expression of frustration, bewilderment, irritation, etc. For example, if you ask someone to trim your hair and instead that person shaves you bald, you might cry out 'What gives?' (among other choice words). It's not typically used in the 'How are you?' sense.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    jacinta said:
    What gives? to me means: What is the problem? What's the matter? What's going on? in the sense that something bad has possibly happened. It is a little more than just "What's up?"

    Say that my brother was supposed to go to a concert with a friend. His friend calls and asks where my brother is. He never showed up at the concert. Later, I find him lying on the couch. I ask him, "What gives? I thought you were going to the concert?"
    Yes, fair comment - it probably is stronger than "what's up" - doesn't have to be though, I suppose it depends a bit on the context. "what's up" itself of course once meant a problem, and you could still say to someone who looks upset "what's up".
     

    te gato

    Senior Member
    Alberta--TGE (te gato English)
    jacinta said:
    What gives? to me means: What is the problem? What's the matter? What's going on? in the sense that something bad has possibly happened. It is a little more than just "What's up?"

    Say that my brother was supposed to go to a concert with a friend. His friend calls and asks where my brother is. He never showed up at the concert. Later, I find him lying on the couch. I ask him, "What gives? I thought you were going to the concert?"
    Hello;
    I agree with jacinta on this one..
    te gato;)
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    What is the story of its usage?
    Up = in a state of disorder, revolt or insurrection and by extension occurring (as an unusual or undesirable event); going on. 1849. [Shorter OED definition II.2.c.] So it seems that "What's up" had both meanings from that date. So far as I'm aware, the third sense "How are you?" is very modern - within the last 50 years.

    Matter = subject of discussion or study; it had this sense in Middle English. So What's the matter meant originally "What the discussion about?" Hamlet pretends not to take it in that way but in the sense "What's wrong?"
    Polonius. What is the matter, my lord?​
    Hamlet. Between who?​
    Polonius. I mean, the matter that you read, my lord.​
    Hamlet. Slanders, sir; for the satirical rogue says here that old men​
    have grey beards...​
    So it seems that by 1600 both meanings were current.

    Give. In the very extensive (over two-column) entry in my Shorter OED there is no explanation of What gives, so I assume it's a usage more recent than the middle of the last century. I guess a slang American origin.
     
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