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I’ve been enjoying the BBC TV series Last Tango in Halifax, a show which regularly sends me to the dictionary in order to decipher certain inscrutable British-isms, the latest being “don’t get all shirty birty (?) with me.

Oxford Dictionaries online defines shirty as an informal adjective which means: irritable; querulous, i.e., ‘don’t get annoyed or shirty on the phone’.

Etymonline has only this to say: shirty adjective: "ill-tempered," 1846, slang, probably from shirt (n.) + -y (2), on notion of being disheveled in anger.

But where does shirty come from? And berty or bertie, is that merely decorative rhyming slang?

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    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/92713/… : So what does all this shirt business have to do with being annoyed? A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge suggests that it comes from the custom of taking off one’s shirt before fighting. I wouldn't argue with that.
    – user66974
    Aug 31, 2015 at 16:28
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    I think that's it. The jingle, Shirty-Bertie, makes a witticism of a criticism; especially as lots of these jingles come from baby-talk.
    – Hugh
    Aug 31, 2015 at 16:29
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    Neat example of cultural context Josh. And for the linguistic side see: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reduplication#Examples
    – Hugh
    Aug 31, 2015 at 16:37
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    Wild guess, but shirty reminds me of snotty, could the two be related? It also reminds me of the the idiom keep your shirt on
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 31, 2015 at 17:16
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    @Hugh - liked that poetic witticism of a criticism line, keep that stuff up. :-)
    – user98990
    Aug 31, 2015 at 23:38

1 Answer 1

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But where does shirty come from? And berty or bertie, is that merely decorative rhyming slang?

  1. Here's a question that deals well with the 'shirty' part. Meaning and origin of “Get someone's shirt out”

  2. Yes, in Britain and I imagine other places it is common (especially with children) to use mild insults that rhyme with a proper name, e.g. Silly Billy.

  3. It's not rhyming slang. A suitable example of rhyming slang for 'shirty' might go as follows:

"No need to get Wooster about it."

The listener is supposed to recognise the well-known fictional character Bertie Wooster and then extract the rhyme from Bertie to make shirty.

Note that, as far as I know, that isn't currently used. It was made up by me as an illustration of how rhyming slang works.

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    Rather than Cockney rhyming, which you correctly points out it doesn't belong, I think "shirty bertie" is a prime example of reduplication see: english.stackexchange.com/questions/80547/…. There's a wiki page on it too (as if Wiki wouldn't have one)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 31, 2015 at 17:22
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    +1 thanks chasly, so then bertie is merely employed to blunt a caustic admonition (as in silly Billy) and adds no additional semantic information to the informal adjective shirty, correct?
    – user98990
    Aug 31, 2015 at 23:28

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