Hello, word nerds! It’s been a little while since I did a word nerd post, but last week I wrote a review that mentioned a character who fit a certain description ‘to a T’. First of all I had to check how to ‘spell’ it. Was it ‘to a T’ or ‘to a tee/tea’? You can probably guess the outcome of that investigation! 😉
Then the inevitable question dawned. What is a ‘T’, and why is it the ultimate measure of accuracy?
First of all, it has nothing to do with t-shirts fitting to well-sculpted muscles. More’s the pity! Nor does it have anything to do with a T-square.
It’s actually quite an old phrase, with the earliest known use appearing in 1693. If you want all the ins and outs, phrases.org has a very informative article on the expression, but the long and short of it is that the most likely explanation is that the letter ‘T’ is an abbreviation of the word ‘tittle’—the technical term for the dot above the letter ‘i’.
Many readers will be familiar with the King James version of Matthew 5:18, where Jesus says, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” In the NIV version, ‘one jot or one tittle‘ is rendered as ‘not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen‘.
So in other words, if something ‘fits to a T’ or ‘suits to a T’ it means down to the smallest detail.
As an aside, I think the word ‘tittle’ needs to stage a comeback. I’d love to hear someone say, “I don’t care a tittle what you think!” Or perhaps even, “I don’t give a tittle.” Wouldn’t you?