Doug from Traverse City
asked about the words tad and skosh. Both mean a very small amount. Tad showed up in print around 1940. It is probably a
shortened form of tadpole, the early stage of a frog or toad. Skosh showed up in print around 1951. It came from a
Japanese word, sukoshi, that
meant short or just a little. The word was picked up by American soldiers
stationed in the orient.
There are formal words
to express a small amount, such as scintilla, a minute particle (from the
Latin), but the informal, colloquial, and slang terms are more entertaining.
Let’s look at a few.
- dab  a small or trifling amount. From a dialectical use of
the word that meant a slight blow or slap with the back of the hand.
- smidgen  a small amount. Possibly a variation of smitch, a particle or bit 
- bit  a small amount (of food). From
- jot  a very small amount. From iota,
the smallest Greek letter.
- speck  A small or minute particle of something. From the Dutch
speckle, a speck.
- nip  a small quantity (of spirits). Possibly from the Dutch nippen, to sip.
- mite  an insignificant amount. Figurative use of a Dutch word
that meant a small coin of low value.
- shred  a scrap or fragment. From a Frisian word meaning a
clipping from a coin.
- ort  a scrap or fragment (of food). From a Frisian word
meaning fodder left by cattle.
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