On the way back from a weekend at a friend’s cottage, we had Toto’s CD IV playing in the car – the one with “Rosanna” and “Africa” on it. I first bought that as a record when it came out, when I was in high school. Thanks to it, I always think of two things when I hear the word Toto. The other thing, of course, is Dorothy’s little dog from The Wizard of Oz.

If this word were written all in lower-case, it could look mathematical: +0+0. In all upper case, it can still look geometric: TOTO. As a capitalized word, it mixes it up a bit more – the bar slides from the top to the middle – but it still has those two o’s.

And actually it can be an uncapitalized word. Not in English – in Latin. It’s an inflected form of the word for ‘all’. You’ll see it borrowed into English in the phrase in toto, ‘in all’ or ‘completely’.

As a proper noun, it’s more than just the dog and the band. There’s an Indo-Bhutanese people living in West Bengal, India, who are called the Toto. Toto can also be a nickname for someone named Antonio or Salvatore. It was a common enough nickname a century ago that Frank Baum may have picked it for Dorothy’s dog just because it was a known name and he liked the sound. Whatever reason Baum used it (he doesn’t seem ever to have said), the musical group Toto got the name from the dog – but that was originally a placeholder name for their first studio recording project. They ultimately decided to keep it, and were likely also positively influenced by the all-encompassing Latin sense.

It’s a nice, simple name, anyway. Two taps of the tongue behind the teeth; the lips holding rounded. Replace the /t/ sounds with something else and you can get oh-oh, no-no, gogo, dodo, so-so, cocoa, yo-yo…

There’s one other Toto that I really should keep in mind, since it’s the one I look at several times a day. This one is a brand name, actually short for Toyo Toki, a Japanese company. They are the world’s biggest manufacturer of… toilets. I’m sure it’s just coincidence that toilet also starts with to (on the page; when it’s spoken, you have to treat the /ɔɪ/ as an ensemble). Anyway, we have two of their very good low-flow toilets (perhaps one for Dorothy, and one for her little dog too). They use barely enough water to melt the Wicked Witch of the West, but they still do their job very well.

One response to “Toto

  1. Interesting, as are all your blogs. I didn’t know the connection between the band and the book. (And now I can’t get “Rosanna” out of my head…sigh.)

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