Collywobbles, The

The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016

Collywobbles, The

Bloated and gassy, gurgling and sizzling. It’s the stomach as well as the heart that plays host to many of our emotions. When we speak of a loss being gut-wrenching, or fear knotting the stomach, these aren’t just metaphors—there’s a long medical tradition linking our bellies and our minds. Early moderns studiously avoided ingesting certain foods thought to cause melancholia. Robert Burton considered cabbage especially dangerous: “It causeth troublesome dreams, and sends up black vapors to the brain.” In the early eighteenth century, the etiquette of undemanding “table talk” was developed to avoid overtaxing the vital spirits during digestion: men of learning, whose busy brains were thought to steal energy from the stomach, were famous for their indigestion-based misery. Research by some modern gastroenterologists into anxiety and stress has shown that the brain and stomach are so closely linked that they would be best thought of as a single system.

The collywobbles (from colic and wobble) is a feeling of anxiety and unease in the pit of the stomach, giving an oily, lurching sensation. In contrast to the prettier “butterflies,” the collywobbles are gelatinous, and quiver most violently in the sleepless hours, as we anticipate tomorrow’s deadline, or the conversation we must have with our mother, and everything around us starts to float.

For more on the relationship between emotions and stomachs, see: HUNGER.

See also: ANXIETY.