late Old English, scræmen, scremen, "utter a piercing cry, cry out with a shrill voice," a word of uncertain origin, similar to words in Scandinavian, Dutch, German, and Flemish (such as Old Norse skræma "to terrify, scare away," skramsa "to scream;" Swedish scrana "to scream," Middle Dutch schremen, scremen, Dutch schreijen "cry aloud, shriek," Old High German scrian, German schreien "to cry"). Related: Screamed; screaming.
Of inanimate things by 1784 (fiddle music). The sense of "communicate (something) strongly" is by 1957. Screaming meemies is World War I army slang, originally a soldiers' name for a type of German artillery shell that made a loud noise in flight (from French woman's name Mimi), extended to the battle fatigue caused by long exposure to enemy fire.
c. 1500, "a sharp, piercing sound or cry," expressive of pain, alarm, etc., from scream (v.).
And (as they say) lamentings heard i' th' Ayre; Strange Schreemes of Death. ["Macbeth," II.iii.61]
That spelling probably reflects "sk-" as spelled in words from Latin (such as school; see sch); his early editions also have schreene for screen. The slang meaning "something very great, excellent, or exciting," especially "something that evokes a cry of laughter" is by 1888; screamer in this sense is from 1831.
updated on February 28, 2022