Etymology
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shiver (v.1)

"to tremble or quiver, shake suddenly," especially with cold, c. 1400, an alteration of chiveren "to shiver" (with cold, chills, horror), c. 1200, a word of uncertain origin, perhaps [Century Dictionary] from Old English ceafl "jaw," on the notion of chattering teeth. Middle English Compendium suggests it is a blend of chillen (see chill (v.)) and Middle English biveren, bivien "to shake, tremble" (from Old English bifian, beofian).  The spelling change of ch- to sh- probably is from influence of shake. Related: Shivered; shivering.

We shiver with cold or a sensation like that of cold ; we quake with fear ; we shudder with horror. To quiver is to have a slight tremulous or fluttering motion. [Century Dictionary]

shiver (v.2)

"to break in or into many small pieces; to burst, fly, or fall apart at once into many pieces," mid-14c., shiveren, from shiver (n.2) or its source.

Chiefly in the phrase shiver my timbers (1794), "a mock oath attributed in comic fiction to sailors" [OED]. Start my timbers in the same sense is by 1775; smite my timbers by 1782; split by 1786; burst by 1791). My timbers! as a nautical oath is attested by 1775, and timber (n.) "pieces of wood composing the frames of a ship's hull" seems to have been 18c. sailor's slang for "arms and legs" (perhaps with a grim awareness that some of theirs might be of wood after a sea-battle; compare timber-toe "wooden leg," in Grose). Related: Shivered; shivering.

shiver (n.1)

"a tremulous, quivering motion, a shaking fit of the body," 1727, from shiver (v.1). The shivers in reference to an attack of fever chills (or fear) is by 1854.

shiver (n.2)

"small piece, broken bit, splinter, fragment, chip," c. 1200, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English word related to Middle Low German schever, schiver "splinter," Old High German scivero, from Proto-Germanic *skif- "split" (source also of Old High German skivaro "splinter," German Schiefer "splinter, slate"), from PIE root *skei- "to cut, split."

Surviving, if at all, in phrases such as break to shivers "break into bits" (mid-15c.). Also, shiver is said to be still dialectal for "a splinter" in Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

updated on December 06, 2022

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