• tiptoe •
tip-tow • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, noun
Meaning: 1. Walk quietly on the toes. 2. Approach an issue cautiously, warily. 3. Avoid dealing with an issue quietly, cautiously.
Notes: Today we begin a series of compounds that have figurative uses. The verb tiptoe uses its present participle, tiptoeing, for an adjective and action noun. If you remember Tiny Tim singing "Tiptoe through the Tulips", I won't tell your age.
In Play: The verb tiptoe is often used as a synonym of creep: "When the conversation turned to age, Chrysalis tiptoed quietly out of the room." The noun usage is almost always in the phrase 'on tiptoe', though the plural is encountered just as often: "Madeline could barely reach the top shelf on her tiptoes."
Word History: Today's Good Word is obviously a compound composed of tip + toe. The historical trail of tip runs out with Proto-Germanic. Middle Dutch had a word tip "extremity, tip" related to German Zipfel "tip". Old Norse (Viking) had a word typpi "tip", which Icelandic has retained in the sense "knob". Toe, on the other hand, was ta in Old English (plural tan), the same as Old Norse. German Zehe (plural Zehen) means "toe" as does Dutch teen, originally a plural. Since toes and fingers are so much alike, they are often named alike: Italian dita, Spanish and Portuguese dedo, Russian palec, and Serbian prst "finger, toe". This leads us to the origin of "finger", which is in Latin digitus, from PIE deik-/doik- "show, indicate". This PIE word is also the source of ditto, token and Latin index "indicator, forefinger".
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