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How did tot,

A measure of spirits, especially rum.

get that meaning?

It seems to have come to mean a specific ration, as in the daily tot of rum given to a sailor in the Royal Navy (well, no longer daily; see Black Tot Day).

This is in almost complete opposition to the idea of a total, though I can see how perhaps you could tot up the tots to make a whole. Other possibilities might be an association with the small child meaning of tot (something tiny) or totter (stumbling).

(I'm also curious about teetotal, but it looks as though it came later, so it's unlikely to be a source for this meaning.)

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I believe teetotal is unrelated, coming from "T for 'total abstainer' in the temperance society records". –  TimLymington Nov 8 '11 at 22:59
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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The OED has for "tot" 4:

1a. A very small or tiny child.

'2. A very small drinking-vessel; a child's mug. (See also quot. 1845.) Chiefly dial.

'3. A minute quantity of anything, esp. of drink; a dram; also, anything very small.

[Quotes inserted because otherwise stackexchange replaces my '2' and '3' with '1' and '2'].

So the implication is that it comes from the "small child" meaning. The OED does not have an origin for that use.

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From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

tot (2)
"to reckon up," 1760, from tot (n.), first recorded 1680s, short for total.

Etymology references from Memidex:

  • New World Dictionary:
    tot | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle] Origin: probably from Scandinavian, as in Old Norse tuttr, small chap, tutta, little girl | contraction from "total"
    www.yourdictionary.com/tot

    tot Origin: probably from Scandinavian, as in Old Norse tuttr, small chap, tutta, little girl
    www.yourdictionary.com/totted

  • American Heritage Dictionary:
    tot | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle] | tots [3rd-person singular present]
    Origin: unknown
    www.yourdictionary.com/tot

  • Oxford Dictionary:
    tot [entry 1]
    First use: early 18th century
    Origin: (originally dialect): of unknown origin
    oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tot

    tot [entry 2] | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle] | tots [3rd-person singular present]
    First use: mid 18th century
    Origin: archaic tot "set of figures to be added up", abbreviation of "total" or of Latin totum "the whole"
    oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tot--2

    tot [entry 3] | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle] | tots [3rd-person singular present]
    First use: late 19th century
    Origin: slang tot "bone", of unknown origin
    oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tot--3

  • Merriam-Webster:
    tot [entry 1, noun]
    First use: 1725
    Origin: unknown
    www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tot

    tot [entry 2, verb, abbreviation] | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle]
    First use: about 1772
    Origin: tot., abbreviation of total
    www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tot show=1

  • Encarta Dictionary:
    tot [entry 2] | totted [past tense] | totting [present participle] | tots [3rd-person singular present]
    First use: Mid-18th century
    Origin: Shortening of total, or from Latin tot "this number, so many"
    encarta.msn.com/dictionary 701710519/definition.html

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Is there anywhere at all in this long answer where you address the question? –  Colin Fine Sep 20 '11 at 14:01
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