Tat is my favorite shoddy monosyllable. Although not as popular in North American English as it is in British English, where it originated, tat is making usage inroads across the pond too.
A tat can be a rag, shoddy merchandise, junk, a low-born harlot, a scruffy layabout.
Tat is apt and stark.
“What tat!” barks the cruel fashion maven, dismissing some young girl’s shabby but delightfully cheeky assemblage of tasteless leftover clothes, heretofore consigned to clothy oblivion and hung inside plastic shrouds in the oubliette of a basement closet.
The still slangy tat may be a modern back-formation, perhaps a clipping of Old English tættec ‘a rag, a tatter’ — an Anglo-Saxonism that is also the origin of the adjective ‘tatty.’ Synonyms for the colloquial snub tatty are scruffy, untidy, cheap, neglected, sometimes sleazy and disreputable.
Tat = Tattoo
In one newer, unrelated use, tat has become an affectionate diminutive for a tattoo. “Seen Tiffany’s tasty new tat? It’s a drawing of open baby’s lips tattooed around the areolae of both her breasts.” These, of course, are the lifestyle choices of persons one would not invite to afternoon tea, lest the eating of your fresh scones be followed by a home invasion.
Why People Get Tattoos
Much pseudoscientific, sociological drivel has been written about tattoo acquisition. I don't think it is at all mysterious. If one has no identity, if one can accomplish nothing early in life, if one's low intelligence and milk-and-cookies-milquetoast personality cannot contrive an identity or at the least cobble together a ramshackle selfhood sometime after puberty, well then — never fear — the feckless, zero-sum doofus can go out and buy an identity and wear it home on a t-shirt. Or the tattoo of frisky sperm on his left testicle may proclaim some brain-stem to be “a, like, totally awesome rebel.” Yeah, right. Earth residents are preponderantly moronic and it eliminates the need for I.Q. tests when some of them label themselves with tattoos.
A halfwit tries for an upgrade to nincompoop.
This use and meaning of the monosyllable tat, as a short form for tattoo, prevails among American youth. Check the e-gossip below:
February 21, 2009
“How lame do they have to be to copy another celeb’s tat?
New friends Lindsay and Lily spent some time hanging together at the Chateau Marmont on Wednesday, and then decided to hit a late-night tattoo parlor to get matching tats, the very same tat Rihanna has on her index finger. It says “shhh.” It’s a ridiculous tat X 3. Wonder who Daddy Lohan will blame this time?”
The phrase tit for tat is not related.
Tit for tat, used in English since the fifteenth century, is possibly an alteration of ‘ tip for tap,’ that is, blow for blow, from tip meaning ‘tap’ + tap ‘touch lightly.’ Employed as noun, adjective and adverb, the phrase implies a retaliatory equivalent given in return for some injury, light or serious. Tit for tat nearly always suggests an initial injury, blow, stroke or bad turn.
Citations for Tat = Shoddy Goods
British novelist Margaret Drabble in Ice Age (1977) uses it dismissively: “She was dressed … in a horrible collection of tat — a long shiny maroon skirt, a baggy flowered blouse, a grey cardigan, and a green cardigan on top of that.”
Purveyors of tat beware: Consumers are onto you
Is our tendency to ‘save’ by gorging on ever more and cheaper goods part of why we have an economic crisis?
headline in The Globe & Mail, April 18, 2009
That long deleted album ... sounds like a heap of prissy irrelevant whimsical lysergic tat with Disney lyrics.
1976 New Musical Express 12 Feb. 26/3
Why ought we to clasp the word tat to our damp bosoms? Because English is not a tongue noted for a capacious hoard of vituperative words. We Anglophones are poor in insult words and terms of abuse that excoriate their victims. Yet every modern language needs a quiver of toxic word darts to propel with precision into the foreheads of evildoers and moral slugs. Therefore each new abusive gem merits wide dispersal. We live up to our ears in shoddy goods, peddled by immoral hucksters and con men with no conscience. Let us label them as we meet them. If their product is tat, say so!
© 2012 copyright William Gordon Casselman
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