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From the compound word hoity-toity meaning 'thoughtless giddy behaviour', where hoity is the word hoit, meaning 'to behave thoughtlessly and frivolously'. However, I can't seem to find the meaning of toit in any English dictionary.

I'm able to find meanings in French, Finnish, Estonian, and, Gaelic. This leads to a lot of confusion, and I'd like to know how this term came about, and especially the meaning of a toit in this context.

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All I know about toits is that they are always around and people are always trying to get them. – David Schwartz Aug 26 '11 at 10:00
up vote 4 down vote accepted

There are a number of indications pointing at an origin from an ancient dance.

To answer your original question, the meaning of toit I would select out of all those cited by wiktionary, is... surprise surprise... the French one.

A toit is the French word for "roof" and I've got this "folk etymology" to propose. It's absolutely unverified and even denied by proponents of the theory that rhyme reduplications are mostly driven by rhymes rather than by meaning.

However the excerpt it quotes is from 1680 and I don't rule out the explanation proposed by the prolific A.A. (in Notes and Queries, a scholarly journal).

Here is a scan from this particular excerpt.


I took it from the www.archive.org Internet Archive at this particular URL.

The other reduplication mentioned in this excerpt (tolly-polly) is known to be an ancient dance.

For those interested in exploiting this interesting albeit unproven gold mine of antiquities, the first document to get hold of is the ebook "A Bibliography of English Etymology". The index entry cites both the author of the note and the source. In our case you will find the following entry

hoity-toity haughty
A.A. 1865d; L. 1853d: 391; Saintsbury, George. 1928: 64

So you need to look for a note signed by "A.A." in the reference 1865d, another note signed "L." in the reference 1853d and a note by George Saintsbury in the reference 1928.

These references lead respectively to volumes 7 and 8 of Notes and Queries.

Here is the second excerpt. Not that this second explanation also refers to a dance.


I could not find the 3rd reference. It points at a book by "George Saintsbury" titled "More words!" (a sequel to his first issue "Words! Words! Words!" published in 1927).

I've just had a look at the OED and the oldest quote there is from around the same period and also hints at an ancient dance:

1668 R. L'Estrange Vis. Quev. (1708) 100 The Widows I observ'd‥ Chanting and Jigging to every Tune they heard, and all upon the Hoyty-Toyty, like mad Wenches of Fifteen.

The Irish/English jig being, in turn, the origin of the French dance named "gigue".

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So, that scene from Marry Poppins, where the children were all Hoity on the toits with the chimney sweep, was rather hoity-toity of them? -- Also, this is a very informative answer and well thought out/explained, thank you for the time and effort! – Incognito Aug 26 '11 at 13:08
Also remember that in Elizabeth's time, there were two kinds of dances: basse dance (when feet stayed on the ground) and haute dance when dancers jumped. See for instance la volta wikipedia: renaissance dances. – Alain Pannetier Φ Feb 11 '15 at 19:44

Etymonline is your friend

also hoity toity, 1660s, "riotous behavior," from earlier highty tighty "frolicsome, flighty," perhaps an alteration and reduplication of dial. hoyting "acting the hoyden, romping" (1590s), see hoyden. Sense of "haughty" first recorded late 1800s, probably on similarity of sound.

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So it's actually from hoyting. Interesting. – Incognito Aug 3 '11 at 14:38
@Incognito, it says perhaps – Unreason Aug 3 '11 at 14:56

Toit doesn't mean anything on its own. It's just a rhyming reduplication. See http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/cockney-rhyming-slang.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduplication

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