Hmm. BLUE IN THE GILLS – that doesn’t seem to ring true. Was he kidding or did he get ‘face’ and ‘gills’ confused. I think that what he probably has done is mixed together a couple of old standards to form a hybrid sort of phrasal malapropism (there must be a word for this sort of thing, but I can’t think of it). Of course, Spielberg is free to use or coin whatever expression he chooses to, but this does sound to me more like a slip of the tongue than anything else.<2005 “The only thing that is going to solve this [[the Israeli/Palestinian conflict]] is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you’re BLUE IN THE GILLS.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 12 December, page 66>
BLUE IN THE FACE : Used figuratively (and very occasionally literally - see 1855 quote), exhausted from anger, strain, or a prolonged effort. <“We argued until I was blue in the face, but I still could not convince him.">. This figurative expression derives from the bluish skin color that theoretically might result from the lack of oxygen when one strains oneself in anger, effort, or possibly talking too much, etc.
When I was a lad and my father noticed while we were out driving that I wasn’t looking too well (I had a severe motion sickness problem), he would say, “You’re looking a little green around the gills.”<1855 “[[He]] exclaimed, I am dying’; I looked at him and seeing him very BLUE IN THE FACE, I caught him in my arms . . .”—‘New York Times.’ 10 March, page 1>
<1864 “You may talk to her till you're both BLUE IN THE FACE, if you please.”—‘The Small House at Allington’ by Trollope, II. xvii. page 175>
<1917 “He alone must argue himself BLUE IN THE FACE over it.”— ‘The fortunes of Richard Mahony’ by H. H. Richardson, II. viii. page 175>>
<1959 “Swear till you're BLUE IN THE FACE that Chuck was with you all day.”—‘Shadow of Guilt’ by P. Quentin, x. page 89>
<1997 “But ideologically, Clinton is already BLUE IN THE FCE on the subject, and for converts the pork store is officially open.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 6 November>
GREEN AROUND/ABOUT THE GILLS: Looking ill, nauseated, pale and miserable, possibly from the effects of overeatng or motion sickness. <“When she got off the rollercoaster she was feeling green around the gills.”> A green complexion has signified illness since about 1300 and ‘gills’ carries the figurative meaning of the skin beneath the jaws and ears. Rosy about the gills’ has meant being in good health since the late 17th century. Sir Francis Bacon used ‘red about the gills’ to signify anger (1626), whereas in the 19th century ‘white’ and ‘yellow’ about the gills meant looking ill. However, the alliterative green won out and surivives in the present day expression. BLUE AROUND THE GILLS is also sometimes used. And FISHY ABOUT THE GILLS refers to being hung over.
Note: In checking the quotes I came up with (not all of which are displayed above), it appears that BLUE AROUND THE GILLS, which I was not familiar with, was used more than I had suspected, so that Spielberg’s only real transgression, if there is one, is in the use of the word IN which is never found, as far as I could determine, in combination with GILLS.<1902 “She was shivering, and looked BLUE AROUND THE GILLS, as if half frozen.”–‘New York Times, 29 March, page SM6>
<1903 “. . . and then he’d look GREEN AROUND THE GILLS and sighed . . .”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 3 July, page 16>
<1932 “The poor workman turned dark GREEN AROUND THE GILLS and began to tremble.”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 10 July, page 15>
<1957 “"Come on, guappone [Neapolitan for hoodlum] . . . Cheer up, don't look so GREEN AROUND THE GILLS . . ." ‘Time Magazine, 30 September>
<1994 “She leaned against me when I got her in the car, GREEN AROUND THE GILLS, her eyes unfocused when I kissed her . . . And a few minutes later, when she asked me to stop the car and I helped her out and held her as she bent over and vomited . . .”—‘Time Magazine.’ 17 October>
(Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Chapman’s Dictionary of Slang, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang)
Ken G – December 26, 2005