In Reply to: Tit for tat posted by ESC on January 16, 2009 at 12:55:
: : What does the saying "Tit for tat is fair play" mean? And where was it derived? We Chinese have a saying goes that "We will not attack unless we are attacked; if we are attacked, we will certainly counter-attack." Do these two sayings mean the same?
: "Payment in kind; precise retaliation. Most authorities believe this expression was a corruption of 'tip for tap,' meaning 'a blow for a blow.' It was already in its current form in the sixteenth century..." From "Facts on File Dictionary of Cliches," second edition, edited by Christine Ammer, Checkmark Books, New York, 2006. Page 443.
: The way I've heard the expression used: He gave tit for tat. Yes, I believe "tit for tat" would apply to the scenario you presented. But, in my opinion, "tit for tat" more closely applies to a trivial situation. As I said, just the way it sounds to me.
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the phrase to the mid-sixteenth century, and adds "apparently a variation of tip for tap," which it traces back a century further.
The definition is concisely given: "One blow or stroke in return for another; an equivalent given in return (usually in the way of injury, rarely of benefit); retaliation."
It's possible that the origin in either case is echoic of the sound of a light slap.