Posted by Frankie's Ghostwriter on January 12, 2004
In Reply to: A nervous titter posted by Shae on January 12, 2004
: : There is an expression about a 'nervous titter going through the congregation'. nervous I can understand -- but why a titter?
: A titter is a short, half-suppressed, laugh. 'A nervous titter going through the congregation' suggests that a speaker had made a comment that was not appropriate to the occasion but with which most people sympathised.
Back in the 60s and 70s, the British comedian/comic actor Frankie Howerd made 'titter' much more popular - it was the kind of word only normally used by teachers ("Stop tittering at the back!") Frankie had such great comic timing that he could say virtually nothing and have an audience doubled-over in laughter.
Because 'titter' contains 'tit' it suited his bawdy style which is ironic because he was reported to be a predatory homosexual to whom no trousers were off-limits. Gyles Brandreth reported a trick he used to play on (usually straight) young men - he'd ask them to rub ointment into his leg and then encourage them to his groin area and before they knew it he wanted his upstanding 'person' included.
His delivery of the line 'titter ye not!' or such lines as 'stop tittering madam - yes you! You know who you are! - and so does he by the looks of him' would challenge even the most po-faced to remain mirthless.
Anyway, in the history of British comedy, 'titter' is forever associated with the late, great Frankie Howerd.