I know what that phrase means, but I would like to know how this phrase may have been originated.

Here's what I think (I am no expert, far from it):

People used to predominantly write in cursive style during the time when this phrase was coined. As you know in cursive writing one would first write out the whole word (which is the bulk of the actual writing) with a single touch-down of the pen, and then "dot their i's and cross their t's" (which can be considered as final touches). Thus, the phrase "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" was coined to refer to any final touches to something which is almost complete but needs some fine tuning.

Is that how the phrase was coined?

2 Answers 2


I believe your explanation is the logical one, although I don't think most of us ancients who were taught cursive were told to wait until the end of a sentence to dot and cross.

dot the i’s and cross the t’s

Be meticulous and precise, fill in all the particulars, as in Laura had dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s, so she wondered what she’d done wrong. This expression presumably began as an admonition to school children to write carefully and is sometimes shortened. William Make peace Thackeray had it in a magazine article (Scribner’s Magazine, 1849): "I have...dotted the i's." AHD

Where did this expression originate from? The expression actually came from the writing world. Some writers have the habit of writing a complete sentence or phrase containing several i’s and t’s without dotting the i’s and t’s until they finish the sentence and put a full stop before they go back and dot their i’s and cross their t’s.

Now, in the course of doing this, some writers tend to forget to dot some i’s and cross some t’s in their sentences. This therefore means that these writers did not pay close attention to the details.

It is from this that the expression ‘dot your/the i’s and cross your/the t’s’ came from. hosbeg.com

If you say that someone dots the i's and crosses the t's, you mean that they pay great attention to every small detail in a task; often used to express your annoyance because such detailed work seems unnecessary and takes a very long time. Collins

  • Maybe not to complete the sentence before dotting and crossing, but I was certainly taught to complete the word. This meant that each word flowed properly, stopping at each 'i' and 't' would have produced broken words.if you were writing "antidisestablishmentarianism" that meant three 't's to criss and five 'i's to dot.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 20, 2021 at 23:13
  • Yes, of course. I think that's how we were all taught. However, I did think it was "cool" to use the continuous "half cross" (or whatever it's called) on a final t when I first saw it.
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 21, 2021 at 0:10

I always thought the dotting of i's and crossing t's during cursive writing is a clarification between i's and t's not being taken as e's and l's.

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