tit for tat

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See also: tit-for-tat



Etymology 1[edit]

From tit (a light blow or hit). Compare earlier tip for tap ((a) blow for (a) blow), from tip + tap; compare also dialectal tint for tant. Origin uncertain; conjectured to be ultimately from Dutch dit voor dat (this for that) or French tant pour tant (equal for equal).[1] The vowel sequence follows a typical ablaut reduplication pattern.


tit for tat (plural tit for tats)

  1. (idiomatic) Equivalent retribution; an act of returning exactly what one gets; an eye for an eye.
    If you hit me, I’ll hit you back; tit for tat.
    • 2006, Robert Axelrod, The evolution of cooperation, →ISBN, page 13:
      Tit for tat is the policy of cooperating on the first move and then doing whatever the other player did on the previous move. This policy means that tit for tat will defect once after each defection of the other player.
    • c. 1706, [Edward Ward], The Dutch Riddle: Or, A Character of a Hairy Monster, often Found in Holland, &c., [London?]: Sold by the booksellers of London and Westminster, OCLC 66791273, page 2:
      Could it but for a longer Space / Lengthen the Bliſs it let's us taſte, / Who would not doat on't? But alas! / The Joy's too exquiſite to laſt. / Two white Herculean Pillars prop / The tufted Gin, the tempting Snare; / When they divide, then in we pop, / Before we well know where we are. / Then that for this, and tit for tat; / But when the pleaſing Minute's flown, / As uſeleſs it returns the Bait, / And both look fooliſh when 'tis done.
    • c. 1775, [Henry] Carey, The Honest Yorkshire-man. A Ballad Farce. As It is Acted at the Theatre-Royal, Dublin: Printed and sold by Thomas Wilkinson, in Winetavern Street, at the corner of Cook-Street; [...], OCLC 723131215, page 23:
      This is but Tit for Tat, young Gentleman. Your Father wanted to get my Eſtate from me; and I have got the Wife he intended for you. All's fair, Sir.
    • 1864, Philip Wharton, chapter II, in Heart or Head. [...] In Two Volumes, volume II, London: Charles J. Skeet, 10, King William Street, Charing Cross, OCLC 12121615, page 59:
      "You'll never get her over like that. You must coax her." / "Coax the devil. Do you think I'm going to be beat by a horse?" / "It would only be tit for tat; you beat her, so she has a right to beat you."
    • 1978 spring, Georges Feydeau; Norman R. Shapiro, transl., “Hortense Said, ‘No Skin Off My Ass!’”, in Maurice Charney, editor, Comedy: New Perspectives (New York Literary Forum; 1), New York, N.Y.: New York Literary Forum, →ISBN, ISSN 0149-1040, page 307:
      YVETTE. I have no idea what to make Monsieur for dinner. / FOLLBRAGUET. (beside himself) Well, that's no skin off my ass, damn it! / YVETTE. (snippily, giving him tit for tat) Well, it's certainly no skin off mine, Monsieur!
    • 2014, William M. LeoGrande; Peter Kornbluh, “Clinton: From Calibrated Response to Parallel Positive Steps”, in Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, →ISBN, page 279:
      As part of the planning for a new initiative on Cuba, the NSC [National Security Council] also revived the concept of "calibrated response." A new staffer was tasked to develop a list of "tit-for-tats" with Cuba—which sanctions might be lifted or softened in response to clear steps toward democracy by the [Fidel] Castro regime.
    • 2016 November 14, Arjun Kharpal, “China Warns of ‘Tit for Tat’ on iPhone Sales if Trump Starts Trade War”, in NBC News[1], archived from the original on 8 September 2017, title:
      China Warns of ‘Tit for Tat’ on iPhone Sales if Trump Starts Trade War
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Etymology 2[edit]

Bowler hats – a type of “tit for tat” – on sale at the Portobello Road Market in London, England, UK

Tit for tat is a rhyme for hat.


tit for tat (plural tit for tats)

  1. (Cockney rhyming slang) A hat. [from late 19th c.]
    • [2005, A. R. Homer, The Sobs of Autumn’s Violins: A Novel of War and Love, Coral Springs, Fla.: Llumina Press, →ISBN, page 148:
      Fred came from Cheapside in London – an official Cockney, born within earshot of the bells of St. Mary-le-Bow – and he taught her Cockney rhyming slang. She loved its lighthearted logic: the last word in a common phrase rhymed with the word it was to replace. So "tit for tat" was "hat", and "trouble and strife" was "wife". But the best part was that you usually dropped the rhyming words and used only the first words, so "your wife's hat" became "your trouble's titfer".]
    • [2008, Geoff Tibballs, “Tit for tat”, in The Ultimate Cockney Geezer’s Guide to Rhyming Slang, London: Ebury Press, Ebury Publishing, →ISBN, page 182:
      Tit for tat hat / The phrase ‘tit for tat [] emerged as a rhyme for ‘hat’ in the late nineteenth century and was subsequently condensed to ‘titfer’ around 1930, in which form it enjoyed unparalleled success at a time when virtually everyone wore a hat.]
Derived terms[edit]


  1. ^ E[lizabeth] M[cLaren] Kirkpatrick and C[atherine] M. Schwarz, editors (1993), “tit”, in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms (Wordsworth Reference Series), Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Reference, →ISBN, page 391.

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