Dittlers and dits

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Mar 28 13:48:33 UTC 2008

At 7:18 AM -0400 3/28/08, Dennis Preston wrote:
>By the time you get to "tiddly," you are creeping up on US
>"diddley-(squat, shit)" = "worthless, meaningless, next to nothing,"
>perhaps from a size association. (That ain't worth diddley. I don't
>give a diddley.), but DARE does not show any regional distribution
>for it, although it shows "doodley-(squat, shit)" as chiefly South
>and South Midland.

with a lovely early cite from Zora Neale Hurston
(1934), "She ain't never had nothin' -- not eben
[Along with Hurston and many other writers, I
prefer my squatitives with -ly rather than -ley

>When I say "doodley" here in Michigan (Your
>dissertation ain't worth doodley"), my local students always correct
>me to "diddley." (Course, it don't make their dissertations worth no

Just think, by next year this time you'll be
supervising dissertations worth doodly instead of
diddly!  Who says plus ├ža change?


>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Lynne Murphy <m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK>
>>Subject:      Re: Dittlers and dits
>>This looks like it could be related to Scots (and perhaps more general
>>northern) English _tiddler_, which means a small fish--presumably one you'd
>>throw back if you caught it (maybe it says this in DARE, but my copy's at
>>the office, and I'm not).  From this comes the BrE dialectal adjective
>>_tiddly_ meaning small, which I found is applied a lot to premature babies,
>>as is _diddy_, which is northern BrE, and again looks like your word...
>>These words were mentioned on my blog here:
>>Are they're related or is there some sound symbolism at work here?  I've
>>heard "/I/ = 'small'", but not "alveolar stop = 'small'".  Or are they all
>>coincidental baby-talkish variations on _little_?
>>--On Thursday, March 27, 2008 11:53 am -0400 "Baker, John"
>><JMB at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
>>>          Not known to me from growing up and raising chickens in Adair
>>>  County, Kentucky, two counties northwest of Wayne County.
>>>  John Baker
>>>  -----Original Message-----
>>>  From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
>>>  Of Grant Barrett
>>>  Sent: Thursday, March 27, 2008 11:24 AM
>>>  Subject: Dittlers and dits
>>>  The fellow below submitted the following to the American Dialect Society
>>>  web site a while back. I sent him an email asking if he'd like to be on
>>>  my radio show. He said yes and his second email follows the first below.
>>>  I found one other use of it so far, in Urban Dictionary of all places:
>>>  http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dittler
>>>  Otherwise, I've found no use of it elsewhere in the usual databases and
>>>  web sites. Does anyone have anything on this? I've forwarded it to Joan
>>>  Hall at DARE for the record.
>>>  Thanks,
>>>  Grant
>>>  Begin forwarded message:
>>>>  From: "J. Fred Calkins" <jfredcalkins at earthlink.net>
>>>>  Date: November 25, 2007 13:21:05 EST
>>>>  To: <woty at americandialect.org>
>>>>  Subject: A regional word
>>>>  When I moved into south eastern KY I discovered a dialectal word which
>>>>  has caused me great curiosity. Perhaps the American Dialect Society
>>>>  can shed some light on the origins and extent of this particular word.
>>>>  'dit' or 'dittler' is the preferred word to refer to baby chickens or
>>>>  other dry land domestic fowl. If referencing other than chicken the
>>>>  tendency is to put a prefix on the word (turkey-dit). I have
>>>>  determined this word to be normal in Bell, Harlan, and Letcher
>>>>  counties. It is understood in Wayne, McCreary, Whitley, Knox, Clay and
>>>>  Leslie counties. It seems to be Normal in the western tip of Virginia
>>>>  but fades when we get across the line into TN. I am curious how far
>>>>  east it goes. Since the words are so entrenched in this segment of
>>>>  Appalachian culture I am suspecting some Old World connections.
>>>>  Alternatively it may come from the American Indians. If you can shed
>>>>  any light on these terms I would be very grateful. Even though I grew
>>>>  up calling baby chickens 'chicks' (in central Michigan) I have found
>>>>  this an easy term to add to my vocabulary.  I did not even blink when
>>  >> someone asked about my children with the phrase 'How are your dits?'
>>>>  Perhaps you have some research or chronicling of this useful word.
>>>>  Fred
>>>>  From: "J. Fred Calkins" <jfredcalkins at earthlink.net>
>>>>  Date: December 27, 2007 06:25:28 EST
>>>>  To: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at worldnewyork.org>
>>>>  Subject: Re: A regional word
>>>>  Grant, you don't offer me a bit of insight to this interesting word
>>>>  yet offer me an opportunity to discuss it on air. I am what we call in
>>>>  the mountains a preacher, I take any opportunity to talk I get. I do
>>>>  try to keep to the subject but need to warn you that gospel idioms
>>>>  thoroughly infect both my thoughts and words. It was, after all,
>>>>  during my pastoral visitation rounds that I learned this word.
>>>>  Another point of information you need to be aware of - the most common
>>>>  chickens in this area are game. The abhorrence of some toward that
>>>>  'sport' is indicted by the laws against fighting chickens (there are
>>>>  no laws against raising them). I serve a district of Seventh-day
>>>>  Adventist churches, most of which are along the southern half of I-75
>>>>  in Kentucky.
>>>>  Have a great day,  Fred
>>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>>Dr M Lynne Murphy
>>Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and English Language
>>Arts B135
>>University of Sussex
>>Brighton BN1 9QN
>>phone: +44-(0)1273-678844
>>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>Dennis R. Preston
>University Distinguished Professor
>Department of English
>Morrill Hall 15-C
>Michigan State University
>East Lansing, MI 48864 USA
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list