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'You're Giving Me the Creeps!'

These women in costumes and face paint may give you the creeps or the willies. Or if you like how they look, they may give you butterflies! (FILE PHOTO)
"You're Giving Me the Creeps!"
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Now, the VOA Learning English program Words and Their Stories.

Americans can sometimes begin a sentence with the words “You’re giving me.” This expression usually describes a person’s reaction to a surprise or to something unpleasant.

First, let’s look at an example from the world of business.

What if you are asked to speak to a group of important customers -- people who depend on your product or services? You prepare for your speech, but you still have concerns about how you will perform in front of the group. Minutes before the speech, you might tell a friend that you have “the jitters.” This means you are worried. Even experienced performers can get the jitters, especially before a big event.

Creeps, willies and heebie-jeebies -- oh my!

Now, let’s talk about your neighborhood.

What if a stranger lives in a house near your home? The man does not appear normal. He may talk to himself, and even raise his voice at imaginary things. He makes you very nervous, even fearful. So, you might say “I get the creeps every time he walks by.” Or you could say, “That guy gives me the creeps.”

The willies are a lot like the creeps. You get the willies when you have a nervous feeling, like when you are in a forest and hear something unusual. These sounds give you “the willies.”

Having a nervous feeling can also mean something or someone is giving you “the heebie-jeebies.”.

You might say “I got the heebie-jeebies when I saw him looking at me.” Also, it is a fun word to say - heebie-jeebies.

Goosebumps and butterflies

Sometimes your body shows you what you are feeling in the form of tiny bumps on your skin called “goosebumps.”

Goosebumps can appear when you are nervous, excited or even very cold. In American English, you might say “I get goosebumps every time I think about it” or “It gives me goosebumps.”

A butterfly (Cethosia Biblis) lands on the face of a girl during a butterfly exhibition in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Jan. 2015.(AFP PHOTO)
A butterfly (Cethosia Biblis) lands on the face of a girl during a butterfly exhibition in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Jan. 2015.(AFP PHOTO)

Butterflies are small, often beautiful insects. But they can also be a nervous feeling you get in your stomach, often before a performance of some kind.

You might say “I am looking forward to playing, but I must admit I’ve got butterflies in the pit of my stomach.”

Sometimes, when a person likes another person romantically, they may say she or he gives them butterflies. They are excited at the thought of being with that person.

Finally, some Americans, when frightened, may use the expression, “you almost gave me a heart attack!” But they are not really having a heart attack. They just mean they were so scared that their heart might have stopped beating. A mother who sees her child fall from a tree might say the experience “almost gave me a heart attack!” In other words, the fall frightened her very badly.

So if someone says they have the jitters, try to help them calm down. Tell them to take a few deep breaths.

If you are told you are giving someone the creeps or the willies or the heebie-jeebies, it might be a good time to consider making some changes. Try not to be so unusual.

If a person tells you that you give them goosebumps or butterflies, it means they like you -- a lot. So, stay the way you are.

In your language how do you say someone is giving you the creeps, or the willies, or the heebie-jeebies? And do you have things like goosebumps or butterflies in the stomach? Let us know what these words are in the comments section!

Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote this report in Learning English.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Christopher Jones-Cruise wrote this report in Learning English. George Grow was the editor. The music at the end of this story is Louie Armstrong singing "Heebie Jeebies."