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March 08, 2012


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The OED does actually have "dibs," or at least the online version that I have access to does. It's listed under "dib," though, so it doesn't come up if you do a regular search on "dibs."

The OED's citations for the game of dibs ("prob. a familiar shortening of dibstones") all seem to be English, but its examples of sense b ("A children's word used to express a claim or option on some object") are American:

* 1932 Amer. Speech VII. 401 Dibs, interj., an interjection giving option on first chance or place. `Dibs on that magazine when
you're through.' `Dibs on going with the team if there's room.'
* 1943 Amer. N. & Q; III. 139/1 If a sprout came out of the house with some candy or an apple and saw a couple of friends who
might have an interest in his prize, the only sensible thing for him to do was to cry `No dibs!' before they could say `I/We
got dibs!'
* 1953 L. M. Uris Battle Cry iii. i. 197 Two bottles of beer were issued to all enlisted men...`Dibs on your beer, Mary'. `Two
lousy bottles, can they spare it?'
* 1954 E. Eager Half Magic iv. 69 You always get dibs on first 'cause you're the oldest.
* 1985 New Yorker 29 Apr. 71/3 Patterson took care to remember..which upstream banks had dibs on which borrowers.

On my Morningside Heights block, kids in the 40's-50's said "fins," which was understood as short for "fingers"--there was a two-finger sign that could be used while saying "fins," though as I recall it wasn't obligatory. I learned "dibs" from California-born contemporaries after I moved here in 1958.

@Q. Pheevr: I used the online OED, too, but it never occurred to me to search "dib" because I've never seen it used in the singular. Curious that the entry for "dibs" doesn't cross-reference "dib." But hey, any entry that cites Edward Eager's "Half Magic" is OK by me.

@rootlesscosmo: Leo Rosten touches on "fins" (or "fen") in the entry I mention: "When we saw a pal pick up a coin or other object, we would scream 'Fen dibs!' 'Fen dibby!' or 'Fen divvies!'" American slang "fin" for "five dollars" comes from Yiddish "finif" = "five."

I remember as a kid growing up in the 50s hearing and saying "dubs" ... as in "Dubs on the front seat" or "I've got dubs on the upper bunk." It wasn't until the late 50s that I began to hear "dibs." Now the old "dubs" that I remember seems to have been completely replaced by "dibs." I wonder if anyone else reading this even remembers "dubs"; and I also wonder if this is a case of one regionalism being replaced by another. Anyway, the fact that I distinctly remember "dubs" (this would have been in MD, VA, and NC during the period 1952-58) may give a clue as to where else to look for the origin of this term. "Dubs" could easily have come from "I dub thee ..." and "dibs" could simply be a subsequent corruption of "dubs".

I don't know about the connection to knighting, but the OED's entry for "dubs" (not under "dub"; go figure) has a few examples that make it look like a potential source:

dubs dAbz. local. Short for doubles. A term used in various senses in the game of marbles (see quots.).
* 1823 E. Moor Suffolk Words s.v., A player knocking two out of the ring cries `dubs!' to authorize his claim to both.
* 1882 M. H. Foote Led-Horse Claim iv. 62 `What is it the boys say when they play marbles?'..`Fend dubs?' Hilgard suggested.
* 1896 Dialect Notes I. 220 In Missouri..dubs means, not doublets, but that the player has blundered, and by crying `dubs' is
entitled to play again.
* 1941 Baker Dict. Austral. Slang 26 Dubs, marbles which are placed in a ring in a game of marbles.

Schoolchildren, check. Establishing a claim, check. Looks promising.


And moreso than any kind of dibs, I think, "shotgun" was never open to appeal or argument. My high school friends and I used to consider it the cruelest, most stylish way to "burn" a friend - to be walking towards the parking lot after school, catch your friend's eye, point at them, nod your head, and say, "Shotgun!" just one millisecond before they realized what you were about to say, too late for them to say it before you did. Ah what a sweet victory that was! To see their crushed, anguished faces as they were consigned to squeeze in with the other 3 or 4 ride-moochers in the back seat.

I've never heard "dubs".

Growing up I occasionally heard the word "dibs" from my parents, but hardly from anyone else. To me it felt like somewhat dated slang, something that had been current when they were children -- one in the Chicago area and one in upstate NY -- both born 1926. So I don't think "dibs" was a 1950s variant of "dubs".

Later I learned "hosey" or "hi-hosey" (I have heard both forms) from contemporaries of mine who grew up around Boston.

The entry for "dib" in the Dictionary of American Regional English includes 1930 DN 6.80 cSC "I've got dibs on that" means "I speak for that; it is mine." Common.

I take this to mean that vol 6, issue 80 [or issue 6, page 80?] of Dialect Notes, published in 1930, states that the usage in common in central South Carolina. There is also a ref to a WELS (Wisconsin English Language Survey) entry from 1950 with the same meaning.

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