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When I was a Cardiology fellow at UMass Medical Center, there was a technician who would use a certain word to mean "a little". It sounded like /a ditzle/. I never asked her how it was spelled and later when I tried to look for the spelling in dictionaries, I never found it. The context would be something like: "Can you see any regurgitation on the screen?", "Just a "ditzle", meaning "very little". My question is: does such a word exist at all? If so, how do you spell it? Or is it some sort of slang or baby talk?

Edit (after accepting @Tim Romano's answer) - The ultrasound technician I mentioned above had worked at Radiology. I bet she incorporated the word into her vocabulary, meaning something very small.

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    If he had Swabian roots, my money would be on a bißle. But you probably wouldn't have misheard a b for a d.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:15
  • @RegDwigнt You mean "bitzle"? It may have been. If that's it, I'll remove the question. But there is also the possibility that the technician had some sort of speech disorder. In conclusion, assuming it is bitzle, does it exist ?
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:19
  • Does the second syllable of your "ditzle" sound like the second syllable of "pretzel"?
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:37
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    "a bißle" is not only Swabian or Alemanic. It is also Franconian or Frankish.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:38
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    Another word one might mishear: pixel.
    – TimR
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:39

7 Answers 7

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Jargon, apparently.

According to David A Cory (emphasis mine),

Although not found in Dorland's Medical Dictionary, the term ditzel is universally recognized among radiologists as a very small nodule found in the lung. ... The origins of this word are obscure. The only similar word I could find, ditz, emerged in the 1970s to describe a silly or inane person, and it seems unlikely that ditz morphed into ditzel. Even though ditzel does not appear in any dictionary, the word has been used in at least one article in the medical literature, specifically in the Yellow Journal.

The original citation from Cory in his blog post:

Mundsen RF, Hess KR. “Ditzels” on Chest CT: Survey of Members of the Society of Thoracic Radiology. AJR 2001; 176:1363-1369.

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  • yup...found it on the Medical Library section of the FreeDictionary also (though it still sounds like a Yiddish word to me!) medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/ditzel FWIW, I agree with Darrick - a quote from your source would be more useful in your answer than just a link and filler! :-) Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 15:54
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    tl:dr version: "the term ditzel is universally recognized among radiologists as a very small nodule found in the lung"
    – Avon
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 16:39
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There is a Russian jargon term «децл», pronounced as /'dɛtzɘl/, which means exactly «a little» and is thought to be originating from the word «deciliter». Here's the Wiktionary page, which might be helpful if you either know Russian or are willing to feed the link to Google Translate.

I doubt it's what you're looking for since this word is unlikely to be used in English context, and I personally prefer Tim's answer, but I felt I should've mentioned it for the sake of completeness.

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    Oughtn’t децл to be pronounced [ˈdʲets(ə)ɫ]? I mean, shouldn’t a stressed e normally be [je] rather than [ε]? Or does that not apply to Latinate words if they’re recent enough (or something else?)? Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 23:31
  • @Janus It is not necessary for borrowed Latin words to have palatalized consonants before /e/. A lot of borrowed English words are pronounced with hard consonants, for instance, «upgrade» which in Russian is pronounced almost exactly as its English counterpart except for the stress on the second syllable. In fact, I don't think there even is a rule about palatalized consonants in stressed syllables. Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 18:09
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In surgery we use the term "ditzel" to mean "a little nothing" or a piece of small, inconsequential tissue. For example, surgeon wipes instrument on sponge, leaving small globule of tissue. Nurse asks "Is this a specimen?", surgeon replies "No, just a ditzel. " Meaning it's nothing, junk, unknown and can be ignored.

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  • Is that how you spell it?
    – Centaurus
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 16:53
  • @Centaurus Yes, that's how it is spelled.
    – Mitch
    Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 16:58
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From "The Yiddish Handbook":

bissel

Or bisl – a little bit.

My mom used to use all kinds of Yiddish words that I thought she had made up. This one rang a bell with me. :-)

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  • It may have been "bisl" but I'm not sure.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:56
  • A bissle, a bissel are all variants of German ein bißchen or ein Bisslein, meaning a little bite as a little bite from an apple or the mouse took a little bite from the cheese.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 16:33
  • Right, @rogermue. Many Yiddish words and phrases are from German and are understandable by those of us that speak/understand German. It's some of the other Yiddish words that were odd to me, such as "shlep" and "tchatchka" that made me think they were made-up words - not from my mother's native language which was German. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 17:22
  • @Kistina Lopez - Yiddish is basically a variant of German with a lot of other elements in the vocabulary.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 17:45
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I suspect that Ditzel may have entered English from Pennsylvania Dutch. Its European parent dialect, Palatine German, has a similar-sounding word, Dützel (sometimes Ditzel), with a meaning plausibly related to the English sense of "very small nodule found in the lung" mentioned in the answer by TimR.

The noun Dützel has various meanings in Central German dialects, all connected with the idea of an excrescence, protuberance, knot or bump. Of the senses of Dützel attested in Pfälzisches Wörterbuch (Dictionary of Palatine German), the one that appears closest to the English is sense 1d, "wartlike growth." The term also appears, in generally similar senses, in a dictionary of South Hessian German.

According to the Palatine dictionary, the word is actually pronounced Ditzel in the Kusel and Rockenhausen districts. If it was indeed inherited by Pennsylvania Dutch, it can be expected to have this pronunciation there too, given that the American dialect regularly pronounces words with an etymological short ü as short i.

I haven't been able to locate a source attesting the word Ditzel in Pennsylvania Dutch itself. I'd love to know what can be found in the 12-volume Comprehensive Pennsylvania German Dictionary, but there are no libraries that have it where I am.

Still, a smaller dictionary of Pennsylvania Dutch that I was able to consult online did have Ditz, a seemingly related word meaning "teat" (from Tütz in Palatine German, or Ditz in some varieties, corresponding to Dütz in South Hessian). I presume that the suffix -el was used to form a diminutive of Tütz/Dütz/Ditz.

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  • If anybody is curious and happens to be close to a library that has the Comprehensive Pennsylvania German Dictionary, they might be able to improve this answer! The dictionary is held by a number of college libraries in Pennsylvania and the Midwest: search.worldcat.org/title/57456813
    – Dave
    Commented Jan 16 at 4:30
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I just came across this post. My surname is Ditzel. I've long known that there was a word meaning a very small nodule in the lung or even simply something small and that this word was the same as my surname . I wanted to point out the existence of the name because of the possibility that the word may be based on someone's name.

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Ditzl or Ditzel: I have also heard that word used in the context of something small and not of consequence. I thought it was German, or Yiddish, and I have used it for many years. Maybe I picked it up talking to surgeons or radiologists in hospital settings, but I think I picked it up in non-medical situations.
I pronounce it Ditz as in "ditsy" (silly inane person), and "L" or ditz-(e)l. I grew up in Upstate NY, near Buffalo. Lots of Polish and German roots there.

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