I love this phrase. Ever since I was a munchkin, I’ve been obsessed with certain words and phrases. I guess it’s a writer thing.
Maybe its just a weirdo thing. 😉
Either way, I figured I’d share some info on it with you.
What it means: When a person says they feel like someone just walked over their grave, they mean they felt a sudden burst of chills run up or down their spine. It’s an involuntary random shiver of sorts that happens due to absolutely nothing. It gives you a case of the heebie-jeebies and yet you can’t quite figure out where they came from or why.
Origin: The freaky phrase was first mentioned in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation by Jonathan Swift, published in 1738.
You can find the book in the link below if you want to read it for yourself.
Skip ahead to 1853 when sir E. Bulwer Lytton published his novel Zanoni. Lytton not only gave mention to the phrase but described it perfectly. One can’t help but remember a time they felt someone walk over their grave, when reading along. Here’s what Lytton’s character had to say on the matter:
“I think I understand what you mean,” said he; “and perhaps,” he added, with a grave smile, “I could explain it better than yourself.” Here, turning to the others, he added, “You must often have felt, gentlemen each and all of you, especially when sitting alone at night, a strange and unaccountable sensation of coldness and awe creep over you; your blood curdles, and the heart stands still; the limbs shiver, the hair bristles; you are afraid to look up, to turn your eyes to the darker corners of the room; you have a horrible fancy that something unearthly is at hand; presently, the whole spell, if I may so call it, passes away, and you are ready to laugh at your own weakness.
So I can’t tell you how the phrase really came to be or sparked inside someone’s head, we can certainly trace it’s literary footprints.
I have to wonder if people used it before then though and just never wrote it into any literature of any kind. I really wish I could get into the head of whoever first thought it up.
When was the first time you heard this phrase?
Have you ever felt someone walk over your grave?