These days, 'dibs' is most often a performative utterance used to lay claim to an object. "Dibs on the chocolate" means that you get to grab the chocolate before anyone else -- and if everyone respects the calling of dibs, this will mean that a nasty scrabble over the chocolate has been avoided. Dibs can also be called on a place ("dibs on the front seat!") or position or role ("dibs on catcher!"). Or on anything else, really. Dibs is most commonly used by children, but is a well-ingrained part of Anglophone culture, and it is not uncommon for adults to call dibs.

The origin of dibs to mean 'an advance claim to something' is a mystery. One favorite theory is that it comes from the game of dibstones (jacks), in which the playing pieces were known as dibs. However, the American slang term dibs was first seen in print in 1932. This is about 30 years after the last rare uses of dibs in reference to the British game of dibstones. There isn't any record of British children using dibs as a slang term in that time - they were using the term 'bags'.

The next best theory that dibs derives from the words division or divide (divide, div, dib, dibs). This works, it doesn't leave a time gap, and it fits in with the way many slang terms are created. But there is no direct evidence for it.

Depending on where you live and the situation you are in, you may use the term 'bags'/'bagsie', 'call' ("I call first spot!") or 'hosey'; 'shotgun' and 'fives' are closely related.


In general a case has to be made for dibs; the greater the case that can be made for dibs the more severe the consequences of breaking it

Dibs is a set of norms that operates within a friendship group but there is a certain commonality across different friendship groups within a particular culture.

Its function is to preserve friendships



A right to claim a person as off limits in a sexual or relationship sense to another person

Proactive dibs

Dibs in relation to a person that the claimer desires but has not been with

Retroactive dibs

Dibs in relation to someone the claimer has been with

Dibs claimer

Person claiming that they have a right to dibs in relation to a desired person


Person who loses the right to be with the desired person

Desired person

The person whom dibs has been placed upon by the dibs claimer


When two friends are both after the same desired person

General Principles

Proactive Dibs

Friend must be informed that dibs is in effect for dibs to operate; This can be communicated by words or action, so that a reasonable person in the position of the friend would consider that the dibs claimer is claiming dibs.

Proactive Dibs can be given up, thus allowing any friend to go after the desired person

Retroactive dibs

It is a lot harder to refute retroactive dibs in the strong categories

It applies in a decreasing extent to (general time frame of retroactive dibs operation; note: proactive dibs may also operate in the lower categories):

Soft refutation

The dibs claimer is no longer interested in the desired person

The dibs claimer no longer has feelings about the desired person

Time frame has expired

Retroactive dibs can be given up or transferred to a particular friend

Who it operates against

Dibs is only binding against friends (however in exceptional circumstances it may be binding against acquaintances)

The closer the friendship, the greater the case for dibs

Length of Operation

The right to claim dibs decreases over time

Refutation of proactive Dibs

Strong refutation

If the dibs claimer has placed dibs on a large number of other people then either none or only the most important will maintain dibs status

If the dibs claimer gets married or is in a long term relationship

If the friend commenced desiring the desired person before dibs was claimed,

Soft refutation

If the desired person is clearly not interested in the dibs claimer

If the dibs claimer has been with a lot of other people

If the dibs claimer is in a short term relationship or, although to a lesser extent, dating would also improve case for refutation

If the desired person already has a partner (however this argument is quite soft and its effect could be lessened further by evidence that the desired person’s relationship is showing signs of breaking up)

For whatever reason the friend rarely picks up, has not picked up recently, or rarely places dibs on people

Support for case of dibs

If the friend met the desired person through the dibs claimer and especially if the friend would not have the met the desired person through other connections


If dibs cannot be justified and both friends still desire the desired person, then a competition will ensue

Whoever is with the desired person first get retroactive dibs; however in this incident the case for retroactive dibs would be reduced

Dibs (?), n.

A sweet preparation or treacle of grape juice, much used in the East.



© Webster 1913.

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