heads up

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(used to call attention to an impending danger or the need for immediate alertness).
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Origin of heads up

First recorded in 1940–45

Other definitions for heads up (2 of 2)

[ hedz-uhp ]
/ ˈhɛdzˌʌp /

quick to grasp a situation and take advantage of opportunities; alert; resourceful.
a warning in advance: sending a heads-up to the Pentagon about possible attacks.

Origin of heads-up

First recorded in 1945–50
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does heads-up mean?

As an exclamation, Heads up! is used to call attention to danger or another important matter.

As a basic noun, a heads-up is an advance notice or warning.

Where does heads-up come from?

In late 18th-century militaries, Heads up! encouraged soldiers to keep their heads held high in tough times—chin up guys.

Since then, heads up has taken on a number of meanings, all based on the idea that one is paying attention when their head is … up.

In the 1910s, heads-up described someone as alert or skillful (e.g., a heads-up police officer). Also around this time Heads up! became an exclamation to warn someone of danger ahead or overhead.

In the 1930s, the phrase heads up also signaled a frank statement, a kind of tbh of its day: I don’t like chopped liver, heads up.

Then, we get to the 1970s, and heads-up came into use in its most common and familiar contemporary meaning: an “advance warning,” “notice,” or “reminder.” For instance, Give me a heads-up when you’re off the plane or Heads up: This will be on the exam. By the 2000s, this sense extended to “facts” or “information” in general: What’s the heads-up on the new project?

As a nod of the head can be used to acknowledge someone you’re walking by, a heads-up occasionally took on the sense of a “greeting” in the 1990s.

Heads up also is the name of two popular games. Since the 1950s, apparently, schoolchildren have been playing Heads Up Seven Up. In the game, kids put their heads down on their desk as seven chosen classmates walk around the room tapping as many students. When done, the moderator shouts Heads up! and the tapped have to guess their tappers.

Based on a game she played on her talk show, Ellen Degeneres developed an app-based game called Heads Up! Here, players select a trivia category (animals, Disney movies, etc.) and divide into teams. One team player places a smartphone or tablet on their head displaying a term they have to guess based on clues their teammates give. The aim is to guess as many you can within a given time limit.

How is heads-up used in real life?

In everyday speech and writing, people may issue a heads up as a warning: Heads up, you’re about to bump into that pole. It’s common to say heads up before tossing something (keys, an apple) so you have the person’s attention.

Heads up very widely gets used in speech and writing for any bit of clickbait “news” or as a friendly “notice.”

Heads up! still sees use in its early “hold your head high and proud” sense too.


More examples of heads-up:

“In case you don’t already have an alert on your calendar, heads up: Father’s Day 2018 is quickly approaching. This year, it will fall on Sunday, Jun. 17. So don’t worry, you have plenty of time to put a little thought into dad’s present.”
—Brittany Bennett, Bustle, May, 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use heads up in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for heads up

heads up

mainly US and Canadian a tip-off or small amount of information given in advance
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with heads up

heads up

A warning to watch out for potential danger, as in Heads up, that tree is coming down now! The expression is generally in the form of an interjection. [c. 1940]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.