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The meaning and origin of the expression: Itty-bitty


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Itty-bitty'?

'Itty-bitty' means very small. It is often used as a form of baby talk to young children when emphasizing the smallness of something.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Itty-bitty'?

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Itty-bitty'.This reduplicated phrase is one of the many of the nursery terms that refer to smallness:

Teensy-weensy - 1850s, USA Teeny-weeny - 1860s, UK
Eeny-weeny - 1870s, UK
Itsy-bitsy - 1890s - USA
Incy-wincy - 1920s - USA

and so on.

The earliest example that I know of in print is found in the Arkansas Banner newspaper, April 1849, as what appears to be a rather odd announcement of a birth:

Immense boy! - none of your little teeny itty bitty twitty dosey posy dolls; but a whopping fellow.

As itty-bitty pre-dates (as far as we currently know) the others, it can be said to be the form that those variants copied.

Itsy-bitsy and incy-wincy variants that were put to a specific end. Itsy-Bitsy Spider and, in the UK and Australia, Incy-Wincy Spider is a children's nursery rhyme, dating from 1910 and the 1930s respectively:

The itsy bitsy spider crawled up the water spout.
Down came the rain, and washed the spider out.
Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain,
and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Itty-bitty'.Itsy-bitsy also found fame in Brian Hyland's 1960 novelty song Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini:

She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was as nervous as she could be
She was afraid to come out of the locker
She was afraid that somebody would see
Two, three, four, tell the people what she wore
It was an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini
That she wore for the first time today
An itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini
So in the locker, she wanted to stay

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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