Dittlers and dits

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Fri Mar 28 14:33:17 UTC 2008

Me too; I was following DARE practice I think.


>---------------------- Information from the mail
>header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: Dittlers and dits
>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 Áa 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

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

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