Monday, August 25, 2008


Fred from Boyne Falls asked about the origin of hoity-toity. It’s easier to say what it means. Currently, it means pompous or full of pretentious airs. Earlier (17th c.), it meant frivolous, riotous, and flighty. It was applied to someone who played the fool.

The Oxford English Dictionary points to a connection with hoyden, a rude, ill-bred, and noisy girl. In turn, that is connected with the dialectical hoit, riotous and noisy mirth.

At one point, it was also spelled highty-tighty, with a reference to someone being high and mighty. Dickens (Martin Chuzzlewit) and Thackery (Vanity Fair) both used that spelling, as well as the other. In both cases, reduplication is at work. dismisses the rumor that it comes from the French haut toit, high roof, because the supercilious look down on others.

SIDEBAR: Hoity-Toity, the board game

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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