Posts Tagged ‘Tidbits’

Titbits

July 25, 2018

Apologies for the radio silence since February, but I’d been waiting for something important to come along.

Saving Mr Banks, I think we can all agree, is a film. And not a very good one, though opinions are divided on that matter. If you’ve forgotten about it, firstly well done, and secondly it’s Disney’s desecration of the life of P.L. Travers. I saw it at the cinema when it came out and have no great appetite to watch it again. (Or Mary Poppins either, if I’m brutally honest, monument of all our childhoods though it be; last time out I thought it a 6 at best. ‘We are not a codfish,’ oh fuck right off would you. And take your fakey chimney jockey with you. Step in toime, step in toime. Inexpressible tedium. Anyway.)

In spite of my heartfelt desire to have done with it once and for all, one scene from the film regularly returns to my mind, specifically the one where Travers, played (with customary professionalism, let’s not deny it) by Emma Thompson, objects to Disney’s use of the word ‘titbit’, which she corrects with practically-perfect pedantry to ‘tidbit’, the obvious implication being that Travers, a prim and proper Englishwoman despite the fact that she is demonstrably Australian, will not tolerate the usage even by uncouth Americans of the syllable ‘tit’, which (just to be clear) is another word for booby or funbag.

This was the point at which I had been going to rant about the writers having got everything arse about tid. The British usage, I would have fulminated, is titbit, with tidbit a sanitised Americanism. But the earliest sources in OED (1650ish) cite ‘titbit’ (‘he hopeth for tit bits’, 1642) and ‘tidbit’ (‘a Tid Bit of yong Tarquin’, 1650, saucy) equally. Bloody Oxonians: when they’re not ruining the fucking country they’re proving me wrong with their scholarly researches.

That said, all the post-1800 citations have ‘titbit’ in the British sources and ‘tidbit’ in the American (the sole arguable exception being Auden, during his US period). It’s also the case that in Travers’ time, the British gossip sheet Tit-Bits was very much au courant. See the final scene of Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) in which Dennis Price, sprung from prison against all the odds, is approached by unlikely angel of death Arthur Lowe: ‘Your Grace, I represent the magazine Tit-Bits, by whom I’m commissioned to approach you for the publication rights of your memoirs.’

The word ‘titbit’, silly though it may be (if not as silly, admittedly, as ‘responstable’), would not have provoked Travers’ wrath. Far better to write the scene with her as a formidable grande dame (which may or may not have been the case; I don’t believe the writers of the film cared either way) proudly asserting the rightness of the British nomenclature of ‘titbits’ in the face of American mealy-mouthedness.

All the flashback stuff with Colin Farrell’s a load of old shite too.

Advertisements