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:
No, not the French tout ("all," pronounced TOO) but the English tout (pronounced TOWT), which in American English seems to appear solely in journalism. I have never heard anyone use it in conversation.
Like many words, tout has a shady past, traced by the OED. It was a relatively innocuous verb as the Old English tutian and the Middle English tute, toten, "to peep" or "to peer." But it turned unsavory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, accumulating the sense "to keep lookout" or "to spy on." A tout was a thieves' watchman.
In time, it became associated with horse racing, and a tout was someone who would watch, often surreptitiously, a horse or trainer to get information for betting purposes. It survives in modern usage to identify someone who solicits custom, recommends, or even importunes, like the gentleman outside a strip bar extolling the delights within, and as the verb suited to the action.
In the United States, the vulgar custom of praising one's wares is so commonplace that touting goes on constantly, at least in newspaper articles,* as when politicians promote pet projects. In American English, thus, touted has come to mean "praised," "vaunted," "extolled."
Example: From a 1988 New Statesman article: "He will wait in a long queue at the entrance to Wimbledon, and suffer ... a serious onslaught from the touts."
*Is my lack of enthusiasm for the word coming through?
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