Not many readers, I expect, will recall the pop-jazz singer of the 1940s and 1950s who was invariably introduced as “Her Nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs.” It was a nickname conferred on her by the radio host Garry Moore, playing on the common phrase “His Nibs,” a satirical title of honor for a person of self-importance.
No longer much in use, “His Nibs” first appeared in 1821 and its origin, according to all the etymological experts, is obscure. Clearly, it is not related to nib in the singular, which is a variant of neb, and means either a “beak” or a “pen point.” It derives from the Old Norse nef (“beak”).
More likely, “His Nibs” had its origin in nabob, a word that came from the Hindi navāb and Urdu nawāb, which are words for a provincial governor of the Mogul Empire in India and, hence, a “person of great wealth and power.”
Nabob also gave us nob, which appeared in 1703, a slang term for a person of the upper class. San Francisco’s Nob Hill, was named for four such persons, the railroad tycoons Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker, and Collis Huntington, who built mansions there.
Another variant also probably descended from nabob is nabs, dating from 1790, and used with a possessive as a jocular designation of an important person, i.e. “His Nabs.”
Georgia Gibbs was born Frieda Lipschitz in 1919 in Worcester, Massachusetts, and became known, first as Fredda Gibson and then as Georgia Gibbs, as a singer whose hits included “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake,“ “Kiss of Fire,” and “Dance With Me, Henry.” She died in 2006 at the age of 87.
His Nibs, The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, would like to hobnob with nabobs, but most of them prefer to avoid him.
I once had a pal who was known as His Nibs,
And he could not abide anyone who told fibs.
If someone strayed from the truth
He would say, “That’s uncouth!”
And poke the offender quite hard in the ribs.
If His Nibs were around in 2018,
And tuned to Fox News on the big TV screen,
When he heard all the inanity
Of Carlson, Ingraham, and Hannity,
There’d more aching ribs than you’ve ever seen.