Posted by Smokey Stover on August 16, 2005
In Reply to: To look a bit of a tit... posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 16, 2005
: : : "To look a bit of a tit..." Hi I'm from Poland and have no idea what that phrase means. If anyone can help please email...
: : To look foolish, but I don't know why it's come to mean this.
: Well, t i t has a number of meanings. Several of them (which according to the Oxford english Dictionary all derive from the Icelandic "titlingr" meaning "sparrow") are a bird of the genus Paridae (e.g. the blue-tit); a small horse: girl or young woman - in a derogatory sense. An unrelated meaning, "breast, nipple" is cognate with "teat", French "teton" and Spanish "teta". But in the phrase "a bit of a tit" it may be a corruption of "twit", meaning "fool", which is a euphemism for "twat" (meaning, to put it genteelly, "the female sexual organ"). "You twat!" as an insult is about on a par with "You pillock/dickhead/w**ker/c**t"). [I assume that on this board we're too well-bred to spell these things out - am I wrong?]
I read the OED a bit differently on the subject of this phrase. The first meaning given in OED is undersized horse, now obsolete, but sometimes used figuratively of persons. It has also been used to mean: "A girl or young woman: often qualified as little: cf. chit; also applied indiscriminately to women of any age (? dial.). (a) Usually in depreciation or disapproval: esp. one of loose character, a hussy, a minx. (b) Sometimes in affection or admiration, or playful meiosis. (Common in 17th and 18th c.; now low slang.)" I didn't see any reference to twat or what not.
I believe the definition Mr. Przemek is looking for may be: "A foolish or ineffectual person, a nincompoop," as Dr. Briggs suggests. The citations in the OED are convincing to me. "1947 Landfall (N.Z.) Dec. 290 Why didn't Lachlan go, the silly tit? 1965 M. FRAYN Tin Men xv. 69 'Who are all these people?' they shouted at one another. 'All which people?' 'All these t i t s in tweed sports jackets.' Ibid. 70 'Peculiar friends he has.' 't i t s, a lot of them.' 1968 Listener 19 Sept. 370/2, I don't think much of this little t i t Hitler, do you, ducky? 1978 S. WILSON Dealer's Move vii. 122 We always took a gun, and it kept me quite alert, not wishing to make a t i t of myself in front of the laird."
Could this use of the word go back to some figurative application of "undersized horse"? I don't know, of course, not being British. SS