jot and tittle

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A reference to Matthew 5:18 in the Bible (King James Version; spelling modernized): “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.”[1] The Koine Greek phrase is ἰῶτα ἓν μία κεραία (iôta hèn ḕ mía keraía).

Jot (the smallest letter or stroke of any writing, iota) is derived from Middle English jote (jot, tittle, whit),[2] from Latin iōta (the Greek letter iota (Ι, ι)), from Ancient Greek ἰῶτα (iôta, the letter Ι, ι, the smallest in the alphabet; (figurative) a very small part of writing, jot),[3] from Phoenician𐤉(y /⁠yōd⁠/).

Tittle (small dot, stroke, or diacritical mark; (figurative) small, insignificant amount, modicum, speck) is derived from Middle English title (small written mark or stroke; smallest part) [and other forms],[4][5] from Anglo-Norman title, tittle [and other forms], and Middle French titele, title (inscription) (modern French titre), and from their etymon Latin titulus (epitaph, inscription); further etymology uncertain,[6] but thought to be of Etruscan origin.



jot and tittle (countable and uncountable, plural jots and tittles)

  1. (countable, idiomatic) Often preceded by every: a smallest detail; (uncountable) the smallest details collectively.
    He did not get every jot and tittle, but the plan ultimately adopted was viable.
    • 1640, James Usher [i.e., James Ussher], “Gal[atians] 3.22. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”, in Eighteen Sermons Preached in Oxford 1640. [], London: [] S. Griffin, for John Rothwell [], published 1660, →OCLC, page 85:
      If thou wilt be ſaved by the Law, it is not thy endeavour or doing; what lieth in thee that will ſerve the turn; every jot and tittle that the Law requires, muſt be fulfilled.
    • 1678, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That which is to Come: [], London: [] Nath[aniel] Ponder [], →OCLC; reprinted in The Pilgrim’s Progress (The Noel Douglas Replicas), London: Noel Douglas, [], 1928, →OCLC, page 194:
      Then he gave me a Book of Jeſus his inditing, to incourage me the more freely to come: And he ſaid concerning that Book, That every jot and tittle thereof ſtood firmer then Heaven and earth.
    • 1745, John Wesley, A Farther Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion. Part III, London: [] W[illiam] Strahan; and sold by T. Trye, []; Henry Butler, [], →OCLC, paragraph 11, page 88:
      They deſire indeed to be exact in every Jot and Tittle, in the very ſmallest Points of Chriſtian Practice. But they are not attached to one Point more than another; they aim at uniform, univerſal Obedience.
    • 1820, Walter Scott, chapter X, in Ivanhoe; a Romance. [], volume I, Edinburgh: [] Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co. [], →OCLC, page 203:
      O all ye twelve Holy Fathers of our tribe! what a losing venture is this for one who hath duly kept every jot and tittle of the law of Moses.—Fifty zecchins wrenched from me at one clutch, and by the talons of a tyrant!
    • 1826, John Kent, “Hymn XIII. P.M. The Same [Everlasting Love].”, in A Collection of Original Gospel Hymns, 6th edition, London: [] W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, [], →OCLC, stanza 2, page 11:
      Firm as the lasting hills, / This cov'nant shall endure, / Whose potent shalls and wills / Make ev'ry blessing sure: / When ruin shakes all nature's frame, / Its jots and tittles stand the same.
    • 1993, John C. Donovan, Richard E[rnest] Morgan, Christian P. Potholm, Marcia A. Weigle, “Classifying Political Systems”, in People, Power, and Politics: An Introduction to Political Science, 3rd edition, Lanham, Md.: Littlefield Adams Quality Paperbacks, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, →ISBN, page 52:
      That is not to say, for a regime to be meaningfully constitutional, every jot and tittle of its formal constitutional language must be followed in every case. It is to say first, there must be a substantial correspondence between the actual arrangement of governing power and that described in the constitution and, second, the individual's rights created by the constitution must be taken seriously by those who exercise governmental power.
    • 1994, “‘Why Don’t They Leave It Alone?’”, in Margaret J. M. Ezell, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, editors, Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning: The Page, the Image, and the Body, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, →ISBN, page 97:
      Furthermore, we may seek to offset our violation of her [Emily Dickinson's] major intentions by attending to her minor ones every so scrupulously, cleaving to an editorial policy that would respect every jot and tittle of her manuscripts—at least, every jot and tittle that the institutions of printing and publishing can practically accommodate—or, at least, every jot and tittle that can be accommodated at an affordable price.
    • 1996, Terry Lindvall, “Joy and Hierarchy”, in Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis, Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, →ISBN, part 2 (Joy), page 89:
      Obedience to the rules of the dance is more poetic than military, more pomp than mundane legalism—for skilled dancers are less concerned with the jot and tittle of their regimen than with the perfect harmony of their movement.
    • 1999, Steven Pinker, “Word Nerds”, in Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language, paperback edition, New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, published 2015, →ISBN, page 131:
      The flip side of failing to recall an irregular form is tripping a false alarm for one when the verb is in fact regular. Word lookup is not instantaneous, and as it proceeds a few irregular verbs in memory might crudely match a regular probe. That could temporarily slow down the rule until the last jots and tittles of the word are properly matched and the false matches have petered out; only then will the rule be allowed to proceed unhindered.
    • 2010, Walter Kiechel [III], “Three Versions of Strategy as People”, in The Lords of Strategy: The Secret Intellectual History of the New Corporate World, Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press, Harvard Business Publishing, →ISBN, page 283:
      Software makers pushed into the market with so-called customer-relationship management packages, enabling companies to track each jot and tittle of business they did with buyers.

Usage notes[edit]

Following the Bible passage, the term is often used in the negative formulation not a jot or tittle.[3]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], 1611, →OCLC, Matthew 5:18, column 1: “For verily I ſay vnto you, Till heauen and earth paſſe, one iote or one title, ſhall in no wiſe paſſe from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
  2. ^ jōte, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 jot, n.1”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1901; “jot, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  4. ^ tī̆tle, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  5. ^ tittle, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2019; “tittle, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  6. ^ title, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2019; “title, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]