In So Many Words

Books of Educational and Informational Comics from Larry Paros


Book IV: Hooking Up (Relationships)

Thrills and Chills

Everyone digs an occasional thrill — but they don't always get the point. Let's try. The thrill originated in the Old English þyrlian, þyrel, and thirl, "to run or pierce a sharp-pointed instrument through or into (a body), perforating or creating a hole in it."

Originally, it described the act of piercing or penetrating material bodies — not people. The thirl or thrill was the hole, bore, perforation, or aperture resulting from the action. Metaphorically, on the battlefield it described the "penetration of enemy lines."

People were first thrilled as we know it — "affected or moved by a sudden wave of emotion" — in the 1590s. When thrilled to the core, they were "pierced by a sudden, intense emotion, resulting in sudden pleasure and delight." Things escalated with the inclusion of a "shivering, exciting feeling" during the 1670s and heated up even more during the 19th century, when "quivering or being thrown into vibration" were added to the mix.

Parents and teachers tell us that cheap thrills provide excitement in the short term but very little lasting satisfaction. Young people have their own ideas, however, nowadays often getting their cheap thrills by piercing their body parts — earlobes, navels, lips, and labiae — and all stops betwixt and between.

Nosu ( nose) + þyrel (thirl) produced the hole in their noses — making for their "nostril." Nothing today links two young people more closely than getting their nose rings entangled. It's a cheap thrill, even if they don't get the point of it.

An exception to the ephemeral nature of cheap thrills is the second album of the same name by Big Brother and the Holding Company. Emerging from the same psychedelic music scene that produced Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, it featured Janis Joplin as its lead singer. Cheap Thrills is considered one of the masterpieces of its genre. It reached number one on the Billboard charts and was ranked number 338 in Rolling Stone's "The 500 greatest albums of all time." Some cheap thrills not only make their point, but can also be felt forever.