Daily Archives: August 22, 2010


I was serving as Virgil to Maury’s aunt Susan as she paid our monthly Words, Wines, and Whatever tasting a visit. It was clear that she was enjoying all three of the titular enticements. “Dear,” she said, taking a refill of her wine, “I have an ounce, next I have two, and then it’s three, and I’m off! I believe that’s what my doctors call titration.”

“I must say your graduated dosing is a good example of titrimetry,” I said.

“To trim a tree?” she echoed. “It’s not Christmas, but we certainly are opening some nice gifts of words here. I find it quite titillating.”

A voice from behind said “Titillating?” Oh dear. It was Ross Ewage. He stepped forward. “Down to the last jot and tittle?”

“Oh, hello,” said Susan, turning.

“Ross, this is Maury’s aunt Susan,” I said. “Susan, this is Ross Ewage.”

“Raw sewage?” Susan said.

“I’m a veritable effluvium,” Ross said. “Don’t worry,” he added, shaking her hand, “hands clean, mouth dirty.” He pulled some small note cards out of his pocket, a word on each. “I overheard you sampling some words on my current theme: titration, titillating… Perhaps you would like to try some more.”

“What’s your theme?” Susan asked.

“I call it ‘Show Me Your –'” He broke off as I suddenly aspirated some wine and started coughing. “You alright?” he said.

“Um, fine,” I croaked, and swallowed some more wine to make the first bunch go down more smoothly.

“The wine is getting to us, I think,” Susan said.

“Soon you’ll be titubating,” Ross said, holding out a card with that word written on it.

“That sounds naughty,” Susan said with a little smirk.

“The implications are staggering,” Ross said. Susan turned over the card and saw that titubate means “stagger, reel, stumble” and comes from Latin.

“Well, I must apologize for my appearance,” Susan said, indicating her nightdress. “I could use a touch of titivation.” (Which means “sprucing up” and is fake Latinate, formed probably on the basis of tidy.)

“Well, no one’s asking you to tittup,” Ross said. Susan raised one eyebrow slightly; Ross handed her another card.

“Three t‘s,” Susan said. “Not a triple x. I trust that tup here doesn’t mean what tup means by itself.” She flipped the card. “‘Prance like a horse’. Onomatopoeic. Oh, and there’s a noun, too. Which can also mean ‘impudent hussy’ or ‘minx’.” She handed Ross his cards back. “How could I possibly have made it to seventy-five without ever being called a tittup? Alas, I guess it’s just not a common word, even if its object is common.” She smiled sweetly. “What other words have you there? Perhaps titmouse?”

“Naturally,” Ross said. “A nice name for a little bird, and a good example of reanalysis, as it has nothing to do with either of its ostensible roots.”

“Oh, yes, I know about birds,” Susan said. “I used to be quite the avid birdwatcher.”

“I like watching birds,” Ross said.

“I bet you do,” Susan said with a little smile. “One I particularly like can’t be found here in North America, though. The Parus major. It can have up to forty different calls and songs. Oh, now, Parus major…” She looked thoughtfully upward. “What do they call those in English?”

Great tits,” Ross said.

“Why, thank you,” Susan tittered, smoothing her nightdress. She patted Ross on the cheek and teetered off towards the bar.