What Gives?: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
December 14, 2023

The phrase "what gives" is a casual way to ask what's happening or what's going on, usually when something seems off or confusing. It's like a quick way to get to the bottom of a situation or to ask for clarification on what exactly is happening.

In short:

  • It is a question asking what's happening or what the issue is.
  • It's often used when something seems strange, confusing, or unexpected.

What Does "What Gives" Mean?

The phrase "what gives" is a way to ask what's going on or to demand an explanation for something that seems weird or unexpected. It's like a casual version of asking, "What's the reason for this?" or "Why is this happening?

Let's look at the main points of this phrase:

  • "What gives" is used to ask about the cause or reason behind something, often in unusual or confusing situations.
  • It's a common phrase in casual conversation and is generally not used in formal settings.
  • People often use "what gives" to quickly get details about a situation, especially when they feel something isn't right.
  • The phrase can be directed at a person, situation, or even an object—anything that appears to merit explanation.
  • Other ways to express the same idea might be "What's up with that?" or "Why's this happening?"

Where Does "What Gives" Come From?

The phrase "what gives" is believed to have originated in American English around 1940. It was first attested in John O'Hara's novel "Pal Joey." The phrase is often used as a conversation opener, similar to "What's up?" or "What's happening?" While the exact etymology is not entirely clear, some sources suggest that the German expression "was gibt's," which means "you see?" or "what is the matter? " may have influenced it.

10 Examples of "What Gives" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use "what gives" in real life, let's look at some examples from different situations:

  • What gives? You need to get over it and move on.
  • When she saw her friends hanging out without her, she texted them, "Hey, what gives?"
  • The project is done and dusted; what gives the additional requests?
  • The coach saw his team's low energy and said, "What gives, guys? We need to step it up."
  •  I write for a local magazine, so what gives with a sudden interest in my work?
  • When the concert got delayed, the crowd started shouting, "What gives?"
  • Noticing his dog wouldn't eat, he said, "What gives, buddy? Not hungry?"
  • He opened the bill and exclaimed, "What gives? These charges are way too high!"
  • After the third date with no callback, she thought, "What gives? I thought we had a good time.
  • I've scoured the internet for hours; what gives with not finding any useful information?

Examples of "What Gives" in Pop Culture

This phrase shows up often in movies, TV shows, and books, usually when characters are confused or surprised by something.

Here's where you might hear it:

  • An article on Strategy+Business discusses the staying power of print books and asks, "What gives?" to question the factors at play.
  • An article on The Gospel Coalition advises viewers to pay attention to "what gives you pause" when deciding whether to watch something.
  • A LibraryThing forum post discusses issues with cataloging films and asks, "What gives?" as a way to question the problem.
  • "What Gives?" is a 2009 TV series starring Mitch Taebel and Donna Kavanagh.
  • A quote from the animated series Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story: "Yeah, me too. What gives with that?"
  • A quote from the 2019 video game Kingdom Hearts III: "Woody! What gives?"

Synonyms: Other Ways to Say "What Gives"

If you're looking for other ways to ask what's going on or to find out more about a situation, here are some alternatives to "what gives."

Check these out:

  • What's going on?
  • What's the deal?
  • What's up with that?
  • Why is this happening?
  • What's the matter?
  • Any reason for this?
  • Explain, please.
  • Something wrong?
  • What happened here?
  • Can you fill me in?

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "What Gives":

  • What does "what gives" mean?

"What gives" is a phrase often used to ask what's going on or what the reason is behind a particular situation or action. It shows that the speaker is confused, surprised, or wants more information.

  • How can I use "what gives" in a sentence?

The phrase "what gives" is usually used as a standalone question or as part of a longer sentence. For example, you could say, "Hey, you look upset. What gives?" or "The meeting was suddenly canceled. What gives?"

  • Is "what gives" considered informal?

Yes, "what gives" is generally considered informal and is more likely to be used in casual conversations than in formal or academic settings.

  • Is it rude to use "what gives"?

Whether "what gives" is considered rude or not depends on the context and tone. If said in a confrontational manner, it might come off as rude. But if used among friends or in a lighthearted situation, it's usually seen as a casual way to ask for information.

  • Can "what gives" be used in text messages?

Yes, "what gives" is often used in text messages, especially when the sender is surprised or confused and wants a quick answer.

  • How is "what gives" different from "what's up"?

While both phrases ask for information, "what gives" often implies that something specific has happened to prompt the question. "What's up" is more general and doesn't necessarily imply that something unusual or surprising has occurred.

  • Is "what gives" used in other languages?

The phrase "what gives" is mostly unique to English. However, many languages have their own ways to ask what's going on in a situation.

  • Is "what gives" used in specific regions?

The phrase is widely used in English-speaking countries and is not confined to a specific region.

  • Can "what gives" be used in professional settings?

Because it's generally considered informal, "what gives" is less commonly used in professional settings. However, it might be acceptable among coworkers who have a casual relationship.

  • Does "what gives" appear in pop culture?

Yes, "what gives" often appears in movies, TV shows, and books, typically when a character is confused or wants to know what's happening.

Final Thoughts About "What Gives"

The expression "what gives" is a handy way to ask for clarification or express confusion. It's generally informal and best used in casual conversations where you want a quick answer.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "What gives" often expresses confusion or surprise about a situation.
  • It's a flexible phrase that fits into many conversations but is usually reserved for informal settings.
  • Whether or not it's considered rude depends on how you say it and who you're talking to. Tone and context are key.
  • While it's a phrase mostly unique to English, the idea behind "what gives" exists in many languages, each with its own way of asking what's going on.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

U.S Dictionary is the premier dictionary about the English language as used in the United States of America.
Copyright © 2024 - U.S. Dictionary
Privacy Policy