Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Our American English local paper insisted on changing a title from titbits to tidbits for a column on minor local events and stories.

I, a British English speaker, have always pronounced and spelled this as titbits.

Are they accurate, or do they just want to avoid shocking their readership with any connection to bouncy lady-parts, in the same way that CNN insists on IED rather than booby-trap?

share|improve this question
2  
The predominant American pronunciation and spelling is "tidbit", and according to Google Ngrams, it has been this way for a long time. If the word was bowdlerized, this happened over 50 years ago ... your newspaper is not doing it now. I associate "titbit" with British English. –  Peter Shor Nov 23 '12 at 16:08
5  
They just want to use what people expect to read. Nothing more than that. To 99.9% of American readership, titbit would look like a sloppy typo. –  tchrist Nov 23 '12 at 16:19
    
@tchrist: Surely more than 0.1% of Americans would read enough British text to recognise that we normally write titbits. Would 99.9% of Americans think my recognise there was a typo? –  FumbleFingers Nov 23 '12 at 18:17
4  
@FumbleFingers I doubt it, actually and honestly. Also consider how rare the word tidbit is compared with recognize. –  tchrist Nov 23 '12 at 18:52
3  
@FumbleFingers I am American and I dare say an almost obsessive lifelong reader fifty years old. I recognize recognise, but have never seen titbits. –  MετάEd Nov 24 '12 at 6:27

1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Tid dominates in the OED’s earliest citations illustrating the word's use, although the first citation for tit (1694) occurs only about 50 years after the first for tid. There is thus sufficient historical justification for either spelling. Tit in the mammary sense is a twentieth century latecomer.

share|improve this answer
    
+1, but I think consultation of OED s.v. teat and [MED] will convince you that "tit in the mammary sense" is no latecomer but in fact goes back to OE, and that in dialect (and perhaps spoken SE) it has survived supersession in written SE by an e spelling which represents a confusion with OF tete = "head", in the sense of "tip", for the nipple alone. –  StoneyB Nov 23 '12 at 18:37
1  
@StoneyB. Tit as a variant spelling of teat is one thing. Tit as a word in its own right is another. –  Barrie England Nov 23 '12 at 18:48
1  
I would argue that the distinction is artificial: that tit 'in the mammary sense' and teat are not two words, but one, with variable pronunciation and spelling. –  StoneyB Nov 23 '12 at 18:52
    
@StoneyB the two words are not cognates, according to Wiktionary. tit is from Old English titt, whereas teat is from French tette. –  Andrew Grimm Jan 20 '13 at 2:05
    
@AndrewGrimm According to this source, the French is of Germanic derivation, a cognate of OE tit and German Zitze. Doubtless the two coalesced in ME; observe the variety of spellings. Certainly I was wrong to suggest that either is related to tête = "head", since that would still have been teste. –  StoneyB Jan 20 '13 at 6:53

protected by tchrist Jul 2 at 2:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.