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.

5 responses to “tittup

  1. For a true story about “two tits” as a Freudian slip for “to its”, see

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  3. And where did tatas come from? As in the Thoroughbred race filly: Bodacious Tatas. Staying on equine line of thought. Tittup is definitely onomatopoetic to me especially a small pony walking briskly or jogging naughtily down a hard packed barn aisle. Or a gaggle of gossipping riders heading out for a ride titivating as they go over the hard surface too preoccupied to listen to tits twitter (no, no phones involved).

    • Tatas appears to be formed on the line of titties and similar words, with a baby-talk reduplication. Bodacious tatas seems to be the most popular collocation, especially since a case in 2000 in which a domain registration was revoked for a porn site wanting the URL bodacious-tatas.com after the Indian company Tata Sons Limited complained that it was trading on their good name. The panelist making the decision was apparently unaware that tatas is well known in the US to mean “breast” and that however big Tata Sons may be in India, they are utterly unknown to most North Americans. The panelist seemed also to be oblivious to all the other domains with tata or tatas or similar in the name. Read a brief summary at http://www.domainhandbook.com/udrp1.html or the full decision at http://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/decisions/html/2000/d2000-0479.html .

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