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In a word: "tittle-tattle"

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 

TITTLE-TATTLE

However reluctant we may be to admit it, and however much we may regret it, much of today's journalism amounts to petty, idle gossip, scantily sourced trivial chatter. It shows in our obsession with celebrities, a broadly defined category, and it cheapens what passes for political discourse. 

A word for that, tittle-tattle, has been around since the early sixteenth century, so the phenomenon is hardly novel. Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars is full of tittle-tattle about the great, which is why we love it so much. 

The word is a reduplication of tattle, which can mean to chatter or prate as well as to tell secrets. 

Reduplication comes easily to us, and all humans, from early childhood on, and we regularly repeat and modify words to produce compounds. In English, think heebie-jeebies, boogie woogie, helter-skelter, hoity-toity, fuddy-duddy, walkie-talkierazzle-dazzle. Stan Carey, who writes the Sentence First blog, has an article on the subject at the Macmillan Dictionary blog

Example: From Agatha Christie's Murder at the Vocarage: "I daresay idle tittle-tattle is very wrong and unkind, bit it is so often true, isn't it." 

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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