I just used the phrase "just giving you a heads-up" for the first time in years, and it got me thinking about the origins of the expression and variations of it.

Heads-up (nominal) is essentially the equivalent of advance warning and heads up (phrasal verb in the imperative) is basically pay attention. Some examples:

The boss is going to come by later, so I just wanted to give you a heads-up!


Heads up, the boss is going to come by later!

There's more discussion in this Q/A, but the origin of heads up is not my question. I want to know about variations of the phrase (in the sense of advance warning), and their origins.

I know of a few variations off the top of my head:

  1. look/watch out: Watch out, the boss is coming by later and he's not happy.

  2. look alive: Look alive, the boss is coming by later for an inspection.

but I don't know where these expressions came from. What are some variations of heads up in the sense of advance warning and the origins of those variations?

  • 1
  • @user3850720 Good find! Now I just need some additional variations ;) May 1 '18 at 9:55
  • Look alive: “Act lively, hurry up, as in Look alive! This job has to be finished today. This phrase, often used as an imperative, today is more common in Britain than in America. [Mid-1800s ]” (AHD)
    – user 66974
    May 1 '18 at 10:13
  • It’s a shame you did no useful research and still, I suggest “heads up” means an advance warning only by abuse. I hear “heads up” as an immediate warning - very much the same as “look out!” It’s what a grunt in a trench yells when he realises his buddy is dozing off, and so failing to notice an immediate threat. I believe it’s because it sounds and is spelled like the same words with a very different meaning in “heads-up display” that it’s come to be - wrongly - used instead for “advance warning”. May 16 '18 at 22:40

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