Posted by Smokey Stover on August 18, 2005
In Reply to: To look a bit of a tit... posted by Victoria S Dennis on August 18, 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
: I didn't make myself very clear earlier. No, the OED doesn't refer to "twat" in this context, but then my chaste 1973 edition doesn't admit the existence of "twat" at all (though the word is quite old - Robert Browning used it in "Pippa Passes" by mistake). It was only my suggestion that "tit" in this context is an alternative for "twit", which certainly is a euphemism for "twat".
Apparently Browning had read the passage cited by the OED, "1660 Vanity of Vanities 50 They talk't of his having a Cardinalls Hat, They'd send him as soon an Old Nuns Twat," and thought it referred to an article of a nun's attire.
Although Americans will occasionally (but rarely) imitate the British in using the word "twit," they never use "tit" and "twat" to refer to a whole person. I've never heard pillock spoken aloud, and the only wanker I know of is Thomas Wanker, one of the composers of music for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." (How'd you like to have that for a name?) And if you call a girl a "chit" she will probably take mighty offence. Actually, these days she might do that if you call her a girl. SS