Thursday, February 28, 2013


Fellow word nerds will understand the following introduction. I apologize to those who can’t possibly imagine using one’s time & effort in such a manner.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve “known” that the wonderful word fastidious had to be closely related to the word tidy.


To my complete astonishment, these two words aren’t even kissing cousins.

Fastidious came into English in the 1500s from the Latin word, fastidiosus, which meant disdainful, squeamish & exacting. This appears to have come from the Latin term, fastu-taidiom, which is constructed of fastus, contempt or arrogance, and taedium, aversion or disgust. By the 1600s, the squeamish part of the word’s meaning took over & the word shifted to mean squeamish, overly nice, & difficult to please when it comes to matters of taste. From there, it morphed to its modern meaning, concerned about matters of cleanliness, accuracy & detail. Who knew?

Tidy, on the other hand, is constructed of tide + y. It entered English in the 1300s, meaning timely, opportune, in-season, or excellent (& isn’t the tide exactly those things?). By the 1700s tidy’s meaning had become more focused, meaning neat & in order. By the early 1800s, tidy earned a sibling verb, to titivate, which we modern speakers supplant with terms like tidy up.

Other tidy-like words include natty, which entered English in 1785, meaning neat, smart & tidy, from the Middle English word, net, meaning pure, fine or elegant. Then there’s neatnik, which showed up around 1959, based on the word neat, which came to English in the 1540s, meaning clean or free from dirt, & came through French from the Latin word, nitidus, meaning well-favored, elegant, trim, & gleaming.

Are you a neatnik, a tidy person, or possibly fastidious (in its modern sense, of course)? Or are you a complete non-neatnik? And how many of you word nerds out there also mistakenly assumed a relationship between tidy & fastidious? Come on, I’ve ‘fessed up. You can, too.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources the OED, Wordnik, & Etymonline.


  1. I never put together tidy and fastidious, but obviously I don't do much etymological thinking. I didn't realize until this moment that the laundry detergent is probably meant to be a pun on the ocean sort of Tide AND Tid-y.

    This also explains the expression "a tidy sum". I never understood how a large pile of money could be "tidy." That's because the expression uses the word to mean "excellent" not "clean."

    Although I suppose if you laundered a lot of ill gotten moola, you'd come out with a truly Tide-y sum...

  2. Anne, you're cracking me up. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Un my writing I definitely am of the tidy (excellent, in order), fastidious (clean, accurate, detailed) there. Just don't expect any visual proof of that in my housekeeping...

    Am I being too fastidiously neat in my bragging here? Or is that a redundant expression?

    I guess in all things but literary, I am a definite non-neatnik. After all, were I to be tidy and fastidious in all arenas, when would I have time to write those excellent, orderly, clean, accurate and detailed stories that trip off the tip of my (virtual) pen?

    And the origins of 'slob' are...???

  4. Hi Susan,
    Slob comes through Irish, English, & an unidentified Scandinavian tongue. It refers to mud or sludge & is related to the word slab.
    I doubt if your housekeeping involves much mud or sludge.

  5. I thought of the term "whitey-tidies" (sp? don't have a clue) meaning diapers. Timely, opportune, in season, excellent? I imagine for Mom's (and Daddies these days) all of these definitions would be appropriate.