Tattletale

So, what of he who DOES tell on someone for putting ants in their pants and making them do the boogie dance all the way to France?

The tattletale has been known by many names; in the UK in the 1950s, Iona Opie listed “blabbermouth,” “tell tale tit,” ” “Beaky the Sneaky,” “snake in the grass” (which may have led to the common UK term “grass” for tattletale), “stoolie,” “trout,” and “traitor,” while noting that elsewhere around the UK, one hear “clat,” “cripe,” “creep-ass,” “gobbie,” or any number of unpleasant names. In the states, terms such as “snitch” go around, but “tattetale” seems to have become the standard.

Opie noted that the most common taunt leveled at them in the UK as of the 1950s was at least 200 years old:

Tell tale tit
your tongue will be slit
and all the dogs in the town
will have a little bit

She recorded several minor variations on that one around the UK. One that I found (from the US, I believe) in an 1880s magazine went:

Tell tale tit, tell tale tit
nobody loves her the least little bit

The above, of course, was sung in one of the standard “taunt melodies” that I should really do a post about one of these days.

By around 1960, the term “Tattle tale” was pretty much the standard term in America, and the most common rhyme was:

tattle tale, tattle tale
hang your britches on a nail

and

tattle tale, tattle tale,
hung by a bull’s tail

A variation I heard on the cartoon Recess in the 90s went:

tattle tale, go to jail
stick your head in a garbage pail

Interestingly, one Dr. Howard recorded back in the UK in 1880 went:

Tell tale, pick a nail
hung by a bull’s tail

The word “tattletale” seems to be relatively new. Digging through my records, it seems that “tell tale tit” was the standard term in the States a of the 19th century, when the “tell tale tit” rhyme was fairly common (enough so that it regularly appeared in collections of Mother Goose Rhymes well into the early 20th century). As of the turn of the 20th century, “tell tale tit” was still common in the states, though “tittle tattle” was also around (Mark Twain used it as a synonym for idle chatter), presumably gradually morphing into “tattle tale.” At the time, “tattlebox” was a name for a gossiper.

Even adults don’t tend to like tattletales. How many of us gleefully turned someone in only to be told that “no one likes a tattle tale?”

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5 Comments

  1. Knile

    See also the word "snitch", a synonym for tattle or tattletale, which gained a lot of traction/publicity/notoriety in the past few years as the "Stop Snitchin'" DVD & campaign in urban areas threatened violence against those who informed the police about crimes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Snitchin'

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    In Australia the term dobber is used for a tattle-tale as "one who dobs' (ie tells tales, particularly to the authorities)

    Reply
  3. ingrid wilson

    In N. Ireland in the 50's and 60's.

    Tell-tale tit,
    Your mummy can't knit,
    Your daddy can't go to bed
    without a dummy tit!

    Reply
  4. Shadow

    Yeah, growing up in Australia a tattletale was a dobber, or a dibber-dobber. We used to say "Dibber dobbers wear chocolate nappies" This was in the early 1990's, but it had obviously been around a while, how long is anyone's guess.

    Reply
  5. Kathleen Dc

    Tattle tail tit tail
    Hanging on a bull's tail.
    Every time you want a cup of tea,
    You get a cup of pee!

    Reply

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