itsy, bitsy, ditsy...

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Oct 7 15:55:00 UTC 2005

I agree.  These definitions are apparently erroneous. The very atypical 1981 N.Y. Times ex., however, does seem to mean "small or dainty," consonant with the "ditsy print."

It seems to me that "eccentric; 'goofy' " is a good fit for all the others.


Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Benjamin Zimmer
Subject: Re: itsy, bitsy, ditsy...

On Thu, 6 Oct 2005 10:41:13 -0400, Wilson Gray wrote:

>There's a dialect of English in which "ditzy" means the same thing as
>"dicty"? As my parents and my grandparents would say, "Well, I'll be
>John Brown!" One never knows, do one?

Though OED2 equates the first sense of "ditsy" with "dicty", I wonder if
that really fits the citational evidence...

ditsy, a.
a. = DICTY a. a, b. Also, fussy, intricate.

1978 Detroit Free Press 5 Mar. (Spring Fashion Suppl.) 23/1 Forget about
delicate chains, a ring on every finger, clanking bangles and ditsy
earrings. 1979 OBERMAN & STECKLER I could have been Contender ii. 8 A
ditsy manicurist who's crazy about cats and lives alone. 1981 N.Y. Times 3
Dec. C8/5 They'll cook and clean for a week before a party and worry over
the ditsy little touches, the table, the flowers, the matching guest
towels. 1985 Ibid. 29 Jan. C13/3 She also has a big repertory of comic
voices, ranging from..a maternal croon to a ditsy English matron's

Except for that last cite, I don't quite see how these match either the
'conceited' or 'elegant' senses of "dicty". The general sense here is
'exceedingly dainty or trifling'. I suppose it's possible that "dicty"
played some role in the formation of "ditsy", but the two words just don't
appear to be synonymous in the cites given. I'm sure the new OED entry
will be more on the mark.

Beyond "dicty", there's a whole array of frivolous "d---y" adjectives that
"ditsy" evokes: "dainty", "dinky", "dippy", "daffy", "dizzy", "dotty"...
Was this one of Bolinger's phonesthemes?

--Ben Zimmer

Yahoo! for Good
 Click here to donate to the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

More information about the Ads-l mailing list