The Meaning of Heads Up: What It Is and How To Use It

This article will give you all of the necessary information on the phrase heads up, including its meaning, origin, sentence examples, and more!

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What does the phrase heads up mean?

According to Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary and other dictionary apps, the phrase heads up (pronounced ˈ hɛdz ˈ ʌp or ˈhedz.ʌp) has three definitions. The first is an adjective meaning alert or resourceful. The second is a noun that is a message that gives advance warning or notice as a way to alert or prepare someone. Third, it can be used as an interjection and way to warn someone, particularly for imminent danger coming their way.

An HUD or heads-up display is a popular feature in modern automobiles. According to Digital Trends. This displays data on the windshield on a transparent display so that a driver can keep their eyes on the road while still being able to see GPS directions, speed, gas, and other information vital for the driver to know. These are available built into cars or one can purchase them after-market.

Is the phrase heads up casual or formal?

Heads up is a fairly casual phrase that one should steer clear of in very formal or professional settings. While it is not as casual as a texting acronym or other similar phrase, it is still not considered appropriate for professional usage to give someone a small amount of information. Below is an example of a situation in which someone should not use the phrase heads up, followed by a revised version of the same message. In this example, Morgan emails his boss to let him know he is not coming in that day.

BAD:

Hey Tony,

Just wanted to give u a heads up I’m not going to be in today. I went to the dentist for a routine visit and they ended up having to pull 3 of my teeth. I’m rly sorry 4 the late notice. Bernice is gonna cover for me.

-Morgan

GOOD:

Hi Tony,

My sincere apologies for the late notice, but I will not be coming in today. I went in for a routine dental appointment and they ended up pulling three of my teeth. I am currently in recovery. I have coordinated with Bernice and she is going to take my shift today. Again, my apologies for the late notice.

Best,

Morgan

Morgan should make sure to use professional language when emailing his boss.

What is the origin of the phrase heads up?

According to Dictionary, the phrase heads up began to be used in late 18th century militaries. This phrase was similar to “chin up” and encouraged soldiers to keep their heads held up during tough times. From there, it took on many different meanings, all stemming from the idea that one is most alert when their head is up.

By the 1910s, the phrase came to mean alert or skilled, and it also began to be used as an interjection or exclamation to warn someone of possible attacks or in advance of difficulty. By the 1930s, it began to be used as a frank statement, similar to how TBH or “to be honest” would be used in modern day.

By the 1970s, the term took on its most common and current meaning, being an advance warning or security measures. It can also be used to mean a reminder or advance notice. By the 2000s, the phrase began to be used to mean information generally.

The phrase is also used as the name of two popular games. Beginning in the 1950s, children played Heads Up Seven Up in the classroom. In this game, children place their heads down on their desk while seven students walk around to tap students. Then, the teacher tells everyone to put their heads up and the students must guess who tapped them. It is also a mobile game developed by Ellen DeGeneres based on a game she played on her talk show. This is similar to charades, but the player must hold their phone to their forehead while the rest of the team gives them clues. 

How can heads up be used in a sentence?

Heads up can be used in a variety of ways: as an adjective, noun, and phrasal verb interjection. In the following example, it will be used as a phrasal verb interjection. Diana and Tomas work on a construction site together. Tomas is bent over tying his boots and stands up at the same time a beam is flying overhead.

Diana: Heads up!

Tomas ducks.

Tomas: Whoa. That was a close one. Thanks.

Diana: No worries. They shouldn’t be swinging those like that anyway. At least you had your helmet on!

In the next example, the phrase will be used as a noun. Natalie and Rebecca are having dinner at Natalie’s parents house. It is Rebecca’s first time meeting them.

Rebecca: Honey, did you give your parents a heads up that I’m a vegetarian?

Natalie: Yes I did. They’re making a ratatouille!

Rebecca: Did they seem annoyed by it? Is it going to set us off on the wrong foot? Ugh, I should’ve just pretended to eat meat–

Natalie: Babe, they’re going to love you. I promise. Plus, my sister’s vegan so vegetarian is easy-peasy.

What are synonyms for heads up?

Thesaurus lists numerous words and phrasal verbs in the English language that can be used in place of the term heads up. Some of these are more or less formal, and can be appropriate in different contexts to heads up.

  • Tip-off
  • Advice
  • Alarm
  • Alert
  • Caution
  • Guidance
  • Hint
  • Indication
  • Information
  • Lesson
  • Notification
  • Prediction
  • Recommendation
  • Sign
  • Signal
  • Suggestion
  • Mayday
  • SAS
  • Forewarning
  • Tip
  • Distress signal
  • Look out
  • Watch it
  • Word to the wise

Overall, the term heads up can be used as an adjective to describe someone who is alert, a noun to refer to a tip or advance warning to someone, or as an interjection to warn someone of imminent danger. This phrase is fairly casual and there are more formal ways to describe this advance notice or information.

Sources:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heads-up
  2. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/heads-up
  3. https://www.digitaltrends.com/cars/best-head-up-displays/