Writes Katie Roiphe in Slate, about the Jane-Austen-on-the-banknote controversy we were talking about yesterday.
Why is that ironic? Isn't it more exactly what you'd expect, that an elegant, precise writer's antagonists would be crude? What's ironic is that Roiphe, championing the elegant, precise writer would misuse the word "ironic."
I checked the complete works of Jane Austen to see if old Jane had ever used the word "irony" or "ironic." The answer is no, but the search turned up the uses of "iron" as well, and I was amused by this exclamation, in "Northanger Abby," about James's gig:
"Break down! Oh! lord! Did you ever see such a little tittuppy thing in your life? There is not a sound piece of iron about it....."Tittuppy. Is that the adjective for the phrase "tits up"? The (unlinkable) OED marks the word as colloquial and defines it to mean: "Apt to tittup or tip up; unsteady, shaky." The first recorded usage is the "Northanger Abby" one I've quoted above. It's based on the noun "tittup," which is "apparently echoic, from the sound of the horse's feet" and means "A horse's canter; a hand-gallop." I guess we'd say "clip-clop." Now, a second meaning of "tittup" is "An impudent or forward woman or girl; a hussy, a minx." You might want to try using that!
1762 D. Garrick Farmer's Return 9 Some Tittups I saw, and they maade me to stare!We're referred to the second meaning of "tit," which is "A girl or young woman: often qualified as little: cf. chit n.1; 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.)" This is a very old usage, going back to 1599:
1599 T. M. Micro-cynicon ii. sig. B5v, He hath his tyt, and she likewise her gull. Gull he, Trull she....Wow. The oldest meaning of "tit" is a small horse. Surprising, no?
1886 G. M. Fenn Master of Cerem. vii, She's a pretty little tit....
1932 S. O'Faoláin Midsummer Night Madness 62 I'm sorry for his two tits of sisters, though.