to a T
The origins of this phrase are uncertain, but it has been observed in print since at least 1766, and likely was around well before that. The potentially related phrase "to a tittle" is found in a 1607 play, The Woman Hater by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher ("I'll quote him to a tittle"). The T in the phrase to a T is likely the first letter of a word, with tittle being the most likely source.
- Other theories with little evidence point to golf tees, for their small size; this may have at least influenced the alternate form to a tee. Some speculate a relationship with T-square, a measuring device introduced around the turn of the century. Others claim the expression refers to the correct completion of the letter t by crossing it.
- In print from "Two Years Before the Mast" published in 1840, and, even then, using quotes, refers to the practice of squaring up a yardarm with a mast on a sailing ship such that it made a perpendicular T.
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- (idiomatic) Precisely; exactly; perfectly; with great attention to detail.
- The announcement of the political endorsement was timed to a T.
- 1766, George Colman & David Garrick, The Clandestine Marriage, Act iii, Scene 2.
- Mrs. Heidel. My ſpurrit to a T.
- 1868, Ann Sophia Stephens, Doubly False:
- That accounts for my having the dress, but it don't account for the piece that you left sticking to the rose-bush under Mrs. Lander's bed-room winder, which piece I took off that morning, and which piece I matched with the dress after you pitched it at me over them bannisters; it was an awful scragly tear, and it fitted to a T.