Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: The word "tip" comes from an acronym for "To Insure Promptness" or "To Insure Performance."
Origins: Once again our lust for interesting backstories to everyday words has led many to believe that tip (used in the sense of a gratuity) came into the English language as an acronym, a word formed by combining the initial letters of a name or series of words. Disappointingly, there were no TIPS-labeled boxes into which thirsty pub patrons of centuries past stuffed their offerings in efforts to keep the libations flowing — tip entered our lexicon in much more mundane fashion. We've yet to find an acronym that predates the
Tip as an acronym appears to have three primary "explanations," none of them valid:
Some maintain that a tip is not furnished ahead of time, so the above explication does not disprove the acronymic claim. In that case one once again
Tip is an old word, and it has nothing to do with either acronyms or the act of attempting to influence quality of service. Although the word has many meanings, both as a verb and as a noun, the use of the term as it applies to monetary rewards to servants dates to the 1700s. It first appeared in this context as a verb ("Then I, Sir, tips me the Verger with half a Crown" from the 1706 George Farquhar play The Beaux Stratagem) and was first recorded as a noun in 1755. However, the use of tip to describe the act of giving something to another (where that list of possible 'somethings' could include small sums of money, intelligence on horse races, or the latest silly joke) goes back to 1610. Tip slipped into the language as underworld slang, with the verb 'to tip' (meaning 'to give to or share with') being used by shady characters as part of the then-current argot of petty criminals.
Nowadays this use of tip has become entirely respectable, but it is amusing that the usage began its linguistic life as tough guy jargon. One wonders if future generations will similarly discover that some of their everyday terms sprang from scenes in The Godfather or were first voiced in episodes of The Sopranos.
Barbara "shotgun shine" Mikkelson
Sightings: In the 1996 novel E.L. Konigsburg The View From Saturday, Julian asserts posh is an acronym and explains this claim by way of the "Port out, starboard home" tale.
Last updated: 30 May 2010
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