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Seesaw and teeter totter are two names for the same piece of playground equipment. I grew up using the word teeter totter mostly, but was aware of seesaw, as it was used in books.

I was wondering whether it is a regional difference or a generational difference.

From thefreedictionary, I found that there are even more terms used for this equipment: tilt or a tilting board, teedle board, dandle or dandle board. Teeter or teeterboard, and teeter-totter, which is probably the most common term after seesaw. So it is indeed a regional term, which also explains why Google Ngrams has no recorded use of teeter totter in British English:
Link to Ngram for seesaw teeter totter in British English

Yet, if seesaw was in use since before 1800, how and why did teeter totter come into use seemingly all of a sudden just before 1920?
Link to Ngram for seesaw teeter totter in American English

Link to Online Etymology Dictionary for seesaw

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+1 for doing your research! –  qegal Aug 3 '12 at 8:57
    
Ngrams and sometimes-hyphenated-words can be notoriously tricky. –  J.R. Aug 4 '12 at 12:32
    
Spare Oom: over at Area 51, you signed up as a follower on the Genealogy Q&A proposal. bit.ly/U3vnDX We're in Commitment Phase and only need a few more 200+ rep people to get to 100%. If you're willing to commit, it would really help us. Committing only means you are willing to ask or answer 10 questions during the 90 day beta. Sorry to add this comment here, but it was the only way I could see to contact you. –  lkessler Oct 2 '12 at 2:25
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The answer to your question is that it is a regional not a generational difference.

Teeter-totter is the most widespread in America. Seesaw is specifically Southern. Dandle is from Rhode Island. Other regional variants include dandle board, teedle board, teeter, teeterboard, tilt, and tilting board. See the Dictionary of American Regional English for details.

Etymologically, the word teeter-totter was formed by reduplication of either titter or totter. It derives from titter, now a dialect form for teeter, and totter, which means the same thing. The OED also attests titter-totter, and says to see the Engl. Dial. Dict. for details. The earliest citation is:

  • 1607 R. C[arew] tr. Estienne’s World of Wonders 266
    He played with a little boy at titter-totter.

See-saw is also a reduplicative word, and its earliest citations are also from the 1600s, although a bit later than the previous one. However, those are all just interjections. The first noun use is this one:

  • 1704 Swift Mechan. Operat. Spirit Misc. 297
    Then, as they sit, they are in a perpetual Motion of See-saw.

And the first verb citation is this:

  • 1712 Arbuthnot John Bull ɪᴠ. vii,
    So they went see-sawing up and down, from one End of the Room to the other.
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Please link the dictionary reverenced and take a look here: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Spare Oom Aug 2 '12 at 23:08
    
@SpareOom Done. Also, see this question regarding Google N-grams, which of course have nothing to do with speech. –  tchrist Aug 2 '12 at 23:12
    
Great link on use of N-grams. Much appreciated. –  Spare Oom Aug 2 '12 at 23:29
    
Seesaw is southern? I'm from PA and I always called it a seesaw. It could be a local thing too... –  Arlen Beiler Aug 3 '12 at 1:11
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Seesaw is the only term used in England. –  Matt Эллен Aug 3 '12 at 8:45
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