The friend who offered this word is a gay man, and he accompanied tittynopes with, "Not a phrase a gay man would use." My mind's ear heard his naughty giggle. It's not a phrase I would use, either; in fact, I had to look it up, which I know was part of my friend's intent. I mis-typed it into the online dictionary. My fingers, and no doubt my brain, kept wanting it to be tippynopes. Somehow, that seems a non-word that is so much less offensive than tittynopes, which, however, is a word, and its meaning is not even offensive.
As it happened, the evening I received the word, I was at a hot dog roast. Baked beans and a tomato salad accompanied the hot dogs, and there were marshmallows for dessert. There were tittynopes at the end, and we discussed at some length how those tittynopes would be used the next day for our host's lunch. We did not, however, use the word tittynopes. We watched her combine some of the tittynopes into a storage container. Soon after that, we took our leave, admiring the fanciful begonia on her porch, not knowing she would gift us with cuttings from it the next day.
No doubt you've figured out from the above little tale what tittynopes means. But if you remain in doubt, a tittynope is defined as "a small quantity of anything left over, whether a few beans on a dinner plate or the dregs at the bottom of a cup." The word was in use in 18th century England when it meant "a small quantity of a tasty treat." It came from the word tittle, which, if you're familiar with the King James version of the Bible, you will recognize from Jesus' words, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law," etc. Tittle referred to the miniscule, to minutiae.
One day, as I worked in the archives of the Museum of Danish America, Cheyenne (my supervisor in my volunteer capacity) mentioned how much she enjoys reading the menus of various Danish American functions as she catalogs their programs. She proceeded to read one aloud, and I commented that it's almost always a delight to read about food, think about food, eat food. Food is good, and reading about it can sometimes be as satisfying as consuming it. Think about literary cookbooks, a favorite genre of mine.
But how often are we satisfied with a tittynope of a delicacy? Can we savor and be content with a single designer chocolate? Will the thinnest slice of key lime pie suffice? Ten bites of comfortable mac and cheese? In French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano, reminds us that it's the first few mouthfuls of something delicious that taste truly spectacular. And yet, because it's so good I, for one, want, of course…more. And more. If you haven't already, pay attention to that fact and perhaps delight yourself with just a tittynope, by the 18th century definition.
As for the current meaning, I find that tittynopes often inspire creativity. After the hotdog roast, our host's beans were sparked up by the smokey flavor of sliced frankfurter. Add the last tablespoon of chopped green chiles to a mashed avocado when you weren't planning on it, spoon the last of the pintos onto chips under melted cheese, and voilà, you have an unexpected taste treat. Fold the stir fry from two nights ago into a couple of beaten eggs––you get the idea. A lot of the delight in present day tittynopes comes to us in the form of surprise, the marriage of the unusual and the spontaneous. Tittynopes it is!
The word tittynopes was brought to you by Paolo Renigar, a gay man, sociolinguistic researcher, educator, and obviously, sometimes a tease.
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