Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tad, Skosh, and Other Small Matters



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 [1729] 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  [1845] a small amount. Possibly a variation of smitch, a particle or bit [1840]
  • bit  [1200]  a small amount (of food). From bite.
  • jot [1526] a very small amount.  From iota, the smallest Greek letter.
  • speck [1400] A small or minute particle of something. From the Dutch speckle, a speck.
  • nip [1736] a small quantity (of spirits). Possibly from the Dutch nippen, to sip.
  • mite [1375] an insignificant amount. Figurative use of a Dutch word that meant a small coin of low value.
  • shred [1000] a scrap or fragment. From a Frisian word meaning a clipping from a coin.
  • ort [1325] a scrap or fragment (of food). From a Frisian word meaning fodder left by cattle.

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

Nook edition
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