I’ve discovered what ails me – it’s a condition called “lexophilia.” Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous, although it may be contagious.

Yes, reader, I am a lexophile. I am not registered as such on any web sites, nor do I take medication for it, unless you count excessive reading as a form of self-medication.

Lexophilia is a love of words.

I admit it. My name is Triske, and I love words.

Not surprising, though, is it? I am a writer, after all. I think for the most part, word love comes with the territory.

I have a notebook where I keep lists of favorite words. It’s not quite a nomenclator (a book containing collections or lists of words) as there are other things included, but it’s pretty close.

Like many other lexophiles, I also enjoy etymology; a curiosity about the origin of words or sayings.

For example, my MIL uses a phrase for my children, when they are being…skutchy. (According to Urban Dictionary, this word, which means “annoying”, is derived from the Italian word “scocciare”, which means “to bother or annoy”. See what I mean? I can do this all day…) The phrase that she uses to describe their behavior sounds like “tee tee ten-NAH.” Curious about the phrase, I asked her its origins. Apparently, it was something her great-grandmother, originally from France and later relocated to Canada, used to say.

I looked all over trying to find the meaning, but my own French is terribly rusty. I did come to the somewhat helpful conclusion that perhaps the first two words were actually one: tête. Pronounced “tet”, it means head, but…it might be easy to mispronounce, if you’re reading it.

So in the course of my research, I found this web site. Although interesting, informative and amusing, I didn’t find the answer to my question.

So I e-mailed Mr. Casselman. And to my surprise, the very next day, he responded. This is what he said:

“It might be “tête tenante” that is “head controlled!” that is, “behave.” Its usual pronunciation would be: tet ten-anht. The final /t/ of the second word might be lost in quick speech. So you would get: tet tenan. But I never heard it nor can I find it in my French dictionaries. But that does not mean that some French-speaking mother did not once use it.

The other word that comes to mind is the slangy, familial French baby-talk word for tit or nipple: tété. Tété tenant could mean tit-holding, implying “if you don’t behave, I’ll pinch your nipples.”

But that sounds like horrible child abuse.”

For some reason, the second definition resonated with me. I think largely because of the pronunciation thing. The phrase wasn’t written; it was handed down orally. If it had been “tête tenante”, it would have stayed basically the same. But “tété tenant?” The pronunciation is similar to “tei-tei”. Which could, pronounced quickly, over time become “tee tee.” N’est-ce pas? Kind of like the game telephone.

Contrary to Mr. Casselman’s conjecture, I wondered if “tété tenant” might not be a threat to pinch a child’s nipples, but rather something you would call a child who pinches nipples. As a woman and, more importantly, a mother who breast-fed her children, I am intimately familiar with that stage of babyhood where they, once they’ve had their fill, get a wicked little gleam in their eyes, just before biting or pinching the – ahem – exposed region. OUCH! Tété tenant indeed!

I am calling this one solved, and am trying to think of a delicate way to let my MIL know my findings.

 

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