March 26, 2022


It had never crossed my mind, in 18 years of blogging, to use the compound word "tittle-tattle." I've occasionally used the word "tattle." For example, in 2007, I wrote "Who decided on this occasion to tattle on a few of the words that were spoken at a closed-door meeting?" (John McCain had yelled "Fuck you!" at another Senator.)

But it was not until just this moment, when I read Chris Cillizza's twitter-tweet, that I ever felt like writing "tittle-tattle." What is achieved through the compounding of a word with another similar sound? I just wrote "twitter-tweet" to get the feel for what's going on with that sort of thing.


See? What's that? "Chit chat"? Why not just say "chat"? It's a little childish. I'm thinking "doggy woggy" and "pussy wussy." But don't say "fuzzy wuzzy" — that's racist. Ah, maybe don't say "doggy woggy" or "pussy wussy" either. Oh, but you only do that when you're talking to the baby? This is how we get racist babies!

Anyway, I'm driven to the OED to find out how deep are the historical roots of "tittle-tattle." Is that some modern chitchattiness? No. It's old:

A. n. 1.

a. Idle talk or chatter; esp. casual conversation or gossip about other people and their lives, typically when characterized as trivial, involving details that are unsubstantiated by evidence, or likely to result in the spreading of rumours.In quot. a1529   perhaps used adverbially.

a1529    J. Skelton Phyllyp Sparowe (?1545) sig. B.iv   I played with him tyttel tattyll And fed him with my spattyl with his byll betwene my lippes....
1600    W. Shakespeare Henry V  iv. i. 71   I warrant you, if you looke into the warres of the Romanes, You shall finde no tittle tattle, nor bible bable there.
1667    S. Pepys Diary 28 June (1974) VIII. 303   After a great deal of tittle-tattle with this honest man,..we to bed.
1755    Gentleman's Mag. Sept. 419/1   Nor bear a part in prittle-prattle Of rumour-loving tittle-tattle....

Shakespeare paired "tittle-tattle" with "bibble-babble," and Gentlemen's Mag. paired "tittle-tattle" with "prittle-prattle." So there's a writing tip for you: When you do the cute duplication, do another one right away. Then the world knows you really mean it.


 b. An unreliable tale or rumour; a piece of gossip; a topic of idle chatter....

1570    T. Wilson tr. Demosthenes 3 Orations 47   Every man devising one tittletattle or other, as his own vaine heade imagines....

 c. A casual conversation about other people, events, etc., typically personal or private in nature and characterized as trivial and involving details unsubstantiated by evidence; an instance of idle chatter or gossiping.Before the mid 20th century always used disapprovingly, but subsequent use is typically more positive; cf. goss n.1 Additions a.

?c1640    W. Rowley et al.  Witch of Edmonton (1658) i. ii. 10   Why Girls? what, Huswives, will you spend all your forenoon in tittle-tattles?...

Imagine yourself riding on a plane and some CNN man is craning to snoop through the crack between the seats and he sees you're not watching CNN but Fox. And now he feels righteously justified to fire up Twitter and tell the world that you were not wearing a mask. It's so important because it bolsters existing prejudices: Mask resisters are right wing! This crack snooping and tittle tattling is so worthwhile.

By the way, was there really a Tucker-watching couple — a Tucker-fucker couple-wupple — that "refused to wear masks"? Were they told that had to and said no and got away with that? Or were they just in the middle of eating/drinking? Were they sneakily pulling the mask down to the point where the nostrils escape from confinement? And were they watching Tucker "the whole time"? How long was that flight? More than an hour? Fact check please. I'm suspicious of everything.


Richard said...

"chit-chat" is lighter and less substantial than "chat".

Lem Ozuna from the Braves said...

“The whole time” must’ve been a short flight or “the whole time” was a YouTube channel dedicated to Tucker videos- the horror 🤯

tim in vermont said...

Maybe the only refused to wear masks while they were watching Tucker.

Ann Althouse said...


I appreciate your comment. Right after posting, I added "And were they watching Tucker "the whole time"? How long was that flight? More than an hour? Fact check please." You made your point in that interval. I read it after I republished with the additional stuff.

rhhardin said...

Chit chat rhymes the consonants and not the words.

Howard said...

It's not tattletaling when the targets are potential traitors to the Free World.

Eleanor said...

The schoolyard twiddle twaddle between CNN and Fox is getting old.

Birches said...

If they were allowed to stay openly maskless on the flight while watching Tucker, I want to names of the airline and flight crew so I can try and get on one of their flights!

We had two late night and the flight attendants averted their eyes at my maskless children. I really appreciated it; they wouldn't have been able to sleep otherwise. But I took another flight without any children where I was sitting next to a woman with a lap infant and a 4 year old. That awful flight crew kept purposefully checking the 4 year old. Tyrants.

tcrosse said...

Does one wear a mask while doing the rock'n'roll hoochie-coo to a boogie-woogie honky-tonk?

Ann Althouse said...

"Wringle Wrangle."

gilbar said...

Thank you Richard! i'd spent 10 minutes now trying to express the difference and was failing

a chit-chat is chintzy ( i think ?)

Duke Dan said...

The closest almost rhyming phrase I can come up with to describe this is dingus maximus

Lem Ozuna from the Braves said...

“pitter patter” is about the sound of falling rain and the sound of footsteps. In the urban dictionary it means “let’s go”.

Kate said...

I can hear Ian Holm with that Welsh accent say the tittle-tattle line from Branagh's "Henry V".

Xmas said...

Lots of languages use double words for a form of emphasis. E.g. the South African national soccer team is Bafana Bafana, a Zulu phrase meaning "The Boys".

English has some nice rhyming duplication, like pitter patter, tick tock, zig zag, etc. I wonder if the "i" vowel replacement is some secret English grammar rule. Zip zap. Mish mush. Tip top. Kit kat. Hip hop.

gilbar said...

rhhardin said... Chit chat rhymes the consonants and not the words.

i have heard, that even has a special word

Howard said...

Ping pong, mao mao,

`Ditto' said Tweedledum.

`Ditto, ditto' cried Tweedledee

Mary Beth said...

I wonder if the "i" vowel replacement is some secret English grammar rule.

Why, yes, there is! Ablaut reduplication.

MadTownGuy said...

Tittle-tattle is for tattletales.

Cilizza would do well to review this 2018 article on the CDC blog about the efficacy of masks:
Non-occupational Uses of Respiratory Protection – What Public Health Organizations and Users Need to Know

"Improvised devices such as bandanas and t-shirts, non-NIOSH-approved single-strap dust masks, and loose-fitting facemasks [emphasis added] will not provide the same level of protection as a NIOSH-certified respirator. The reason for this is two-fold.
NIOSH-approved respirators provide higher levels of filter efficiency than improvised devices, facemasks, and dust masks.12-14 This is not surprising as only the NIOSH-approved respirators are tested against a near “worst-case” aerosol challenge (i.e., mass median aerodynamic diameter particle of about 0.3 microns) and demonstrated to be at least 95% efficient. This ensures that filters in NIOSH certified respirators will very efficiently collect aerosols of all sizes and shapes, including air pollutants (such as PM2.5 which is particulate matter 2.5 microns or less) and biological aerosols. Other test methods exist for testing loose-fitting facemasks used in hospitals, but are far less stringent.15 (More about worst-case testing in this NIOSH video, A Particle is a Particle.)

holdfast said...

I have now discovered that thanks to the mask requirement I can’t sleep properly on a plane. I don’t mind the masks so much riding on a train for an hour or two, but on a cross continental flight where I start very early in the morning, it would be nice to sleep. But it seems I cannot sleep while wearing a face panty.

What if on every single flight one day at least 10 or 20 people refused to wear them? If the airlines forced all the flights to return to the gate, they would shortly be paralyzed and eventually bankrupt. It’s time for a little bloodless revolution.

farmgirl said...

“ It's not tattletaling when the targets are potential traitors to the Free World.”

Pleas tell me you didn’t say this w/a straight face- b/c if I’d written that, it would obviously have been snarky warky.

Old and slow said...

Thanks Mary Beth! That was an interesting article.

Peter said...

Cillizza Ratioed muchly

David Begley said...

The Left will never let go of their fetish for masks long after covid is over.

Richard said...

Welcome. If somebody calls to "chat", I get an ominous feeling. Something serious is going to come up.

Currently reading McDavid on Mencken on his The American Language. Still in the part--maybe it's most of the book--where people on both sides of the Atlantic, far back as early eighteenth century, are virulently and endlessly arguing what is proper English and what vile Americanism should be eschewed.

Lots of people must have had independent incomes. I'd like to say, need a hobby, but apparently that was the best they could find. Sad.

chuck said...

Cillizza's twitter-tattle, or as some us see it, twitter-twaddle.

mikee said...

Zippity zappity, yippity yappity, trippity trappity, slippity slappity, hippety hoppity.

I recall Dick Van Dyke employing an 'orrible faux Cockney accent as a chimneysweep in Disney's Mary Poppins, speaking and singing in this format.

And Letterkenny has a catchphrase, "Pitter patter, let's get at her."

mikee said...

Fiddle fiddle, nonsense.

And Tweedle Beatles, from the Seuss "Fox in Sox" are known to have paddle battles.

mikee said...

Dammit frammit, I meant "fiddle faddle."

mikee said...

And I am appalled that autocorrect makes Beatles out of the beetles input.

Amadeus 48 said...

"I'm suspicious of everything."

A worthy sentiment.

Amadeus 48 said...

Ralph Roister Doister--the first comedy written in English.

Scott Patton said...

Mikee beat me to it...
Cillizza should have pelted them with Fiddle Faddle.
It's not as dangerous on a flight as is doing it in a movie theater.

holdfast said...

1971: Pierre Trudeau’s “fuddle duddle” incident

The Story

"The prime minister interrupted me... by mouthing a four-letter obscenity," says Conservative MP John Lundrigan. "He mouthed two words," adds another Tory MP, Lincoln Alexander, to a group of reporters. "The first started with the letter F, the second word the letter O." The accused potty mouth, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, swears he did no such thing. Trudeau says that Lundrigan and Alexander are being "very sensitive" for "crying to mama and to television." When pressed by journalists on exactly what he said inside the House of Commons on Feb. 16, 1971, Trudeau mutters the soon-to-be famous phrase: "fuddle duddle."

I always hated his policies, but I could not help but admire his style some days.

reader said...

Fuzzy wuzzy is racist? I thought he was a bear?

Maynard said...

The Left will never let go of their fetish for masks long after covid is over.

They will find other symbols of obedience that we must adhere to.

Gunner said...

Even the RINO lionized John McCain was unacceptable back then because of Trumpian rudeness.

MadTownGuy said...

Extra credit reading for Cillizza:

N95 Respirators vs Medical Masks for Preventing Influenza Among Health Care Personnel
A Randomized Clinical Trial

"Conclusions and Relevance Among outpatient health care personnel, N95 respirators vs medical masks as worn by participants in this trial resulted in no significant difference in the incidence of laboratory-confirmed influenza."

You know, in close contact, like, say, on an airplane.

Ann Althouse said...

"Fuzzy wuzzy is racist? I thought he was a bear?"

Yeah, well, it's one of the things you're supposed to know about now.

BudBrown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hunter Biden's tax payer funded Hooker said...

Hoard said
It's not tattletaling when the targets are potential traitors to the Free World.

LOL - Howie goes full Soviet.

Hunter Biden's tax payer funded Hooker said...

Seriously - the collective left are now total Soviets.

In every direction. They prove it every day now.

madAsHell said...

Fuzzy-Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy-Wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy-Wuzzy wasn't very fuzzy wuzzy he

This is CRT. Everything is racist unless I say it isn't.

There's a dry-cleaner called Fuzzy-Wuzzy in the neighborhood, and they've been using the name since at least 1962.

Narayanan said...

Richard said...
"chit-chat" is lighter and less substantial than "chat".
"chit" is serious business in many parts of India ...

A statement of an amount owed for food and drink, especially one signed to indicate acceptance of the charge.
A short letter; a note.
A ticket or token, especially one redeemable for food or drink.

- as basis of Trust Community/Society
A chit fund is a rotating saving scheme that has been a part of India’s financial system for more than a century now.
Chit fund is an excellent financial instrument for both – saving and borrowing. As a savings instrument, it gives a good return on investment, and as a borrowing scheme, it can be a reliable source of funds in emergencies and otherwise.

Lucien said...

Consider the elegant arcane glory of Nino Scalia’s “argle-battle”.

Quaestor said...

It's not tattletaling when the targets are potential traitors to the Free World.

The "Free World" is that place where one is not free to think, speak, or act in any way disapproved by Uncle Howard and his massah.

Fuzzy wuzzy originally referred to certain Sudanese tribesmen who fought the British and their Egyptian allies in the Mahdist War and subsequent revolts along the Sudan-Egypt frontier (1881-1899). These tribal warriors were easily identified by their hairdos, basically afros. A Kipling open on the subject.

Temujin said...

"They were tuned to Tucker the whole time."

Ugh, God. Must Cillizza be so predictably itty-bitty?

Hunter Biden's tax payer funded Hooker said...

The Soviet left are looking over your shoulder.

Be careful.

Richard Dillman said...

English language users have enjoyed allitteration, internal rhymes, and simple end rhymes since the Anglo-Saxon period. Alliteration was the dominant form of rhyming in most Anglo-Saxon literature such as “Beowulf,” etc., and its popularity extended well into the Medieval period.
These simple rhymes allow everyone to be poetic at some level. An interesting question might be: how do these simple rhyming patterns
shape etymology or even the history of English. By the way, the uses of alliteration in “Beowulf” are fascinating.

Earnest Prole said...

CNN viewership is rapidly approaching the high five figures, down from the low seven figures less than two years ago, so remind me again who this person is?

TickTock said...

Re: Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear.

I refuse to follow anti racist rules on language that are based on ignorance of the past and any assumption of my racist intent. A year ago my daughter-in-law berated me for using the phrase "not in a coon's age", a popular phrase in my youth when every 6 year old had a coonskin cap. Raccoons were thought by early settlers to live a long time, hence the origin of the phrase.

But then, as the definition of racism has expanded to eliminate the element of intent and refer only to what is considered acceptable behavior by people I view as shallow, I've become (unfortunately) comfortable being considered a racist. If they want to eliminate my Davy Crockett coonskin cap, f**k 'em.

Got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning I guess.

Rollo said...

"Pitter patter, let's get at 'er."

Probably not something you want to be saying in the #MeToo era.

Mark O said...

The correct phrase is "maskie-waskies."

Rollo said...

Pish posh. Or if you prefer, pish tosh. Of the two, pish posh seems to be winning a contest no one knows about or cares about.

Lots of languages use double words for a form of emphasis.

Or plurals, e.g. Malay, Bahaha Indonesia. Spanish does something similar with abbreviations, e.g. EEUU.

Ann Althouse said...

"Why, yes, there is! Ablaut reduplication."

Thanks! That was great!

Interesting to see the similar things, like "reduplication" (which comes in 3 forms!).

Joe Smith said...

'It's not tattletaling when the targets are potential traitors to the Free World.'

Because nothing says 'Freedom' like being a Borg hive mind slave to leftist, socialist, Marxist ideology.

The 'potential traitors' should be arrested, interrogated, and tried by a tribunal of union members.

They will then be found guilty (it's a foregone conclusion), and sentenced to a reeducation camp.

They will be released only when they learn to love Obama, and to worship Hillary's cankles as much as Howard does.

Then they will be truly free.

Richard Aubrey said...

anti-racist fuzzy wuzzy. "martini" a rifle model.

(Soudan Expeditionary Force)

We've fought with many men acrost the seas,
An' some of 'em was brave an' some was not:
The Paythan an' the Zulu an' Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o' the lot.
We never got a ha'porth's change of 'im:
'E squatted in the scrub an' 'ocked our 'orses,
'E cut our sentries up at Sua~kim~,
An' 'e played the cat an' banjo with our forces.
So 'ere's ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
We gives you your certificate, an' if you want it signed
We'll come an' 'ave a romp with you whenever you're inclined.

We took our chanst among the Khyber 'ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An' a Zulu ~impi~ dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;
We 'eld our bloomin' own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us 'oller.
Then 'ere's ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an' the missis and the kid;
Our orders was to break you, an' of course we went an' did.
We sloshed you with Martinis, an' it wasn't 'ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin' you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.

'E 'asn't got no papers of 'is own,
'E 'asn't got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill 'e's shown
In usin' of 'is long two-'anded swords:
When 'e's 'oppin' in an' out among the bush
With 'is coffin-'eaded shield an' shovel-spear,
An 'appy day with Fuzzy on the rush
Will last an 'ealthy Tommy for a year.
So 'ere's ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an' your friends which are no more,
If we 'adn't lost some messmates we would 'elp you to deplore;
But give an' take's the gospel, an' we'll call the bargain fair,
For if you 'ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

'E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An', before we know, 'e's 'ackin' at our 'ead;
'E's all 'ot sand an' ginger when alive,
An' 'e's generally shammin' when 'e's dead.
'E's a daisy, 'e's a ducky, 'e's a lamb!
'E's a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
'E's the on'y thing that doesn't give a damn
For a Regiment o' British Infantree!
So 'ere's ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
An' 'ere's ~to~ you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air --
You big black boundin' beggar -- for you broke a British square!

Rollo said...

Ugh, God. Must Cillizza be so predictably itty-bitty?

It's all his teensy-weensy brain can manage.

n.n said...

Masks mitigate progress with a flip of a coin, at best. Progress transmission with time, space, and habits, at worst. And, of course, the plausible... probable collateral damage from the social inhibitor, petri dish, viral collector, and aerosol impregnation effect.

n.n said...

Maybe the only refused to wear masks while they were watching Tucker.

A transgender party, a political flight, perhaps a baseball game... Follow the Democrat tail.

Drago said...

"They were tuned to Tucker the whole time."

Temujin: "Ugh, God. Must Cillizza be so predictably itty-bitty?"

Well, Cillizza is competing with Tater Stelter and Oliver Darcy for Top Moron so......

Readering said...

I feel like the language is becoming impoverished as words that have lost their original connection to prejudicial origins are removed from the lexicon. Speaking for my own group only, things like paddy wagon don't bother me in the least. Whereas calling me a papist, using the original association, would. Still remember when I was called out in a law class for using Chinese wall decades ago. Still don't quite see the problem.

Critter said...

Those who value freedom tend to watch Tucker. I like those maskless people without even meeting them!

Cillizza should be chastised if he isn't wearing triple masks of N-95 type. He knows a single mask does nothing to stop spread of the disease.

Iman said...

Chris Cilliza: Effeminate Doughy Badness sans Stelterisms.

Iman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadisonMan said...

I recently watched the MASH TV episode with "tittle-tattle" in it. Tittle Tattle will lose the Battle. A slip of the lip can sink a ship. Frank Burns and Max Klinger conversing.

TickTock said...

Hmmm. I apparently am ignorant of the derivation of Fuzzy Wuzzy. Thank you Richard!

TickTock said...

EHmmm. I apparently am ignorant of the derivation of Fuzzy Wuzzy. Thank you Richard and Quaestor.

Jim at said...

Yeah. I totally believe this happened.

farmgirl said...

Candance Owens testimony in front of congress-
About the 2faces of this country…

farmgirl said...

Candance Owens testimony in front of congress-
About the 2faces of this country…

farmgirl said...

Holy crap!! Never mind- I have no idea wth just happened on that clip- except to say: no wonder we’re so f/ked.
What a mess Congress is.

BudBrown said...

eclectic skeptic's blog flog

farmgirl said...

I meant for that to go under the Hillary post. Sorry.