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The meaning and origin of the expression: Teensy-weensy


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Teensy-weensy'?

'Teensy-weensy' means very small. It is often used as a form of baby talk to young children when emphasizing the smallness of something. For example, "why don't you eat just a teensy-weensy bit more spinach?".

What's the origin of the phrase 'Teensy-weensy'?

As with many reduplicated phrases the first word 'teensy' is doing most of the heavy lifting. Weensy is an invented word just added for the rhyme.

There are various forms of this expression - eensy-weensy, teeny-weeny', 'incy-wincy', 'eeny-weeny' and so on. There are also a variety of spellings - teency, teensie, teentsy, teenzy...

Teensy has been around in the language since at least the mid-19th century, as in this example from the US author J. E. Cooke's novel The Last of the Foresters, 1856:

Tell me the charm in those feet which you young ladies designated, I remember, as ‘teensy’.

Teensy itself is just a variant form of the earlier word 'teeny', which has the same meaning.

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'Teensy-weensy'.It doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination to realise that teeny is also a variant, of a word we are familiar with - 'tiny'. This is an older 16th century word which the OED defines as "very small, little, or slight; wee, minute".

So, that's teensy thoroughly explained. What about weensy? That's not a word with a life of its own and is only used as the rhyming part of teensy-weensy.

The first use of the expression that I know of is in a children's magazine edited by the US author John Townsend Trowbridge, Our Young Folks, Volume 8, 1872:

Rose was no longer a funny teensy-teensy of an infant pig, but was now a half-grown, solid, fat porker.

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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