There are heaps of words we can use to define our state when we’re feeling out of sorts. Many of them have unknown origins.
In 1727 one could be in a tiff, meaning quarrelsome or petty irritation. Though no one is certain of tiff’s source, it may have be an imitative word for the sound of a sigh or puff of air.
In 1922 the word tizzy was born. Like tiff, nobody really knows its source, but some etymologists argue it may have grown out of the earlier term, tizzy, meaning sixpence piece, slang for the first coin minted with the profile of a head on it, taken from the Latin word testa, meaning head.
In 1939 the word snit came into the world, meaning a state of agitation or fit of temper. It appeared first in the play Kiss the Boys Good-bye by Clair Boothe Luce. Nobody knows its source.
Though the word hissy has been with us since 1905, hissy fit (meaning a dramatic tantrum) didn’t appear until 1983. Both hissy & hissy fit come from the word hiss, which has been around since the 1300s. Like tiff, hiss is onomatopoeic.
Since the 1530s, a fit of ill feeling has been referred to as pique (or a fit of pique). This comes from a Middle French word which meant irritation or sting.
When one takes offense, one might be miffed. This form of miff got rolling in 1797. But miff first showed up in English much earlier in 1620. At that time miff was a noun meaning fit of ill humor. It appears to be another onomatopoeic word based on an exclamation of disgust.
In the 1590s a pother was a disturbance or commotion. Nobody knows where this word came from, & by the 1640s to be in a pother meant one was flustered or irritated.
In the 1600s, one who quaked or trembled could be said to be in a dither. Dither came from the Middle English word didderen, which has no known source. By 1819 folks who were anxious & flustered were said to be in a dither.
Speaking of things that get one in a dither, if bias & propaganda can give you a hissy fit, consider this excellent Anti-Racism Daily article on careful word usage.
These terms aren’t heard as much as they once were. If you could bring one back into popular usage, which would you choose?
Thanks to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, the OED, Merriam-Webster, Collins English Dictionary,& Wordnik.com.
This week, we’ll look at huff, then consider a few more words of imitative origin that refer to something annoying.
Huff made its way into English in the mid-1400s, as an imitation of an exhalation. By the 1590s huff picked up the meaning bluster with indignation. The idiom to leave in a huff, showed up in 1778.
In 1727 the word tiff came to English, meaning an outburst of temper, also based on the imitative sound of an exhalation, or slight puff of air. By 1754 tiff picked up the meaning, a small quarrel.
Another word imitating a puff of air is guff, which arrived in 1825. By 1888 it picked up its modern meaning, empty talk or nonsense, as in that’s a lot of guff.
In 1765, ugh showed up, imitating another sort of exhalation, a cough. By 1837 ugh morphed to become an interjection of disgust.
Squib, a short piece of sarcastic writing, showed up in English in the 1520s. Though etymologists haven’t determined that it has its origin in the firework of the same name, if it indeed does, then it is imitative of the sound of that particular firework, which hisses (as might the unfortunate targets of sarcastic writing).
In the 1620s, the imitative word squelch was born. It meant to fall, drop or stomp on something soft with a crushing force (imagine the sound of collapsing onto a sofa fashioned of marshmallow crème). Squelch picked up a second meaning in 1764, to suppress completely.
The final imitative annoyance for this post took me by complete surprise. The Sanskrit word mu referred to a gnat or fly, & was imitative of the sound of such insects. In time, mu made its way into Latin, where it became the noun, musca, fly. By the time it reached English, it referred to a particularly annoying little fly, so it picked up a diminutive ending to become mosquito.
It’s enough to make one exhale a puff of air, isn’t it?
So, did anyone out there already know that mosquito is imitative in origin? Or that nearly all these words relate to a n exhalation? Come on, fess up.
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: Collins Dictionary, the OED, Wordnik & Etymonline.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.