Imagine my surprise when earlier this week I got a phone call from Carpinteria, a town about two hours south. The caller had been given a copy of Central Coast Family Magazine, which included a Wordmonger column. She asked whether I’d consider writing a column on words like tidbit & morsel. Darn tootin!
Tidbit showed up in English in the 1630s, made up of tid, meaning fond, solicitous or tender, and bit, which appeared in English in the 1200s, meaning a piece bitten off.
The English got morsel from the French word morceau, meaning small bite, portion or helping, some time around 1200. Interestingly, the word mordant, meaning caustic (a figurative sense of biting), shares the same roots.
Smidgen came from smitch, a Scottish word meaning a very small amount, or an insignificant person. Smidgen entered English in the 1800s.
Dollop made its way into English in the 1570s, from the East Anglian word, dallop, meaning a tuft or clump of grass. It wasn’t until 1812 that the meaning morphed to a lump, serving or blob.
Both jot & iota came to English in the 1630s from Greek. Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet, & (in Greek) also denotes anything small. An alternate spelling was jota, thus the word jot. The Greeks got the root word from a Semitic language we’re not entirely sure of, but the original root was probably something like the modern Hebrew word yodh.
In the early 1950s, Korean War veterans brought home to America the word skosh, their version of the Japanese word sukoshi, meaning few, little, or some.
In 1877, a small child might have been referred to as a tad. Etymologists are moderately sure tad was a shortened form of tadpole, which was born of the word tadde, an alternate form of toad. Toad came to English in the 1300s from nobody-knows-where, & was added to the Middle German word poll, meaning head. It wasn’t until 1915 that tad began to mean a small bit.
Which of these morsels intrigues you most? Please leave a comment.