Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: To a T

 

When something is done exactly, or perfectly, it is done to a T. Or would that be to a tee or to a tea or to the tee or...?

I was pretty sure it was simply "a" capital "T" but embarked on a slang-o-rama journey to discover where this idiom came from and what the heck "T" meant in this context...

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As to the origin of this very simple phrase, there are a lot of theories thrown around. T as in T-shirt? Nope, first use goes waaaay back before t-shirts. How about a sport-related tee? Once again, neither golf nor curling (the other sport where a tee is used) appears in conjunction with this phrase in its earliest uses.

The Phrase Finder delves into the myriad possibilities, before lighting upon the letter "T" itself, as the initial of a word, noting:

If this is the derivation then the word in question is very likely to be "tittle". A tittle is a small stroke or point in writing or printing and is now best remembered via the term jot or tittle. The best reason for believing that this is the source of the "T" is that the phrase 'to a tittle' existed in English well before 'to a T', with the same meaning; for example, in Francis Beaumont's Jacobean comedy drama The Woman Hater, 1607, we find: "Ile quote him to a tittle."  In this case, although there is no smoking gun, the "to a tittle" derivation would probably stand up in court as "beyond reasonable doubt".

The Word Detective agrees, and goes down the rabbit hole exploring the word "tittle."

Daily Writing Tips also has a nice post on the proper form of to a T, and its origins.

So, there you have it. You can have your tea while you wear a tee to tee and do it all to a T.

To a tea/T/tee.

2 comments:

Liz V. said...

Good to see your upbeat post after last week's worrying news. Hope all is well.

Ann Parker said...

Hi Liz! We're hanging in there! Such strange times, right?