The Meaning of Tit for Tat: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of tit for tat? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the idiom tit for tat, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the phrase tit for tat mean?

According to Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary, the phrase tit for tat, sometimes represented as tit-for-tat, is some action in which someone takes revenge on someone else in an equivalent way for something that the other person has done to them. In the simplest of examples, if someone stole a candy from your candy jar, you would steal a piece from theirs in return. This form of payback and revenge can be considered childish or immature. As the saying goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Many other languages also have words and phrases that mean tit for tat. Many of these follow a similar structure as the phrase tit for tat. This list of translations for the phrase tit for tat is provided by Word Sense.

  • Macedonian: мило за драго‎
  • Spanish: ojo por ojo‎
  • Latin: quid pro quo‎ (neut.)
  • Italian: pan per focaccia‎
  • Romanian: ochi pentru ochi‎
  • Chinese – Mandarin: 以牙还牙‎, 一报还一报‎
  • Russian: о́ко за о́ко‎
  • Czech: oko za oko‎
  • Persian: این به اون در‎ (in be on dár)
  • French: rendre la monnaie de sa pièce, tant pour tant‎
  • Norwegian: like for like‎
  • Japanese: 竹箆返し‎ (しっぺがえし, shippegaeshi)
  • Dutch: oog om oog, tand om tand‎

What is the origin of the phrase tit for tat?

According to Phrases, many people assume that the phrase tit for tat originated as the phrase “this for that.” Tit and tat are also the name of light blows or punches that first originated as tip and tap. Charles, Duke of Orleans first used these terms in a book of poems that was first published in 1466, that he had written while held captive in England after the Battle of Agincourt. The book contains the following quote:

“Strokis grete, not tippe nor tapp.”

The first time the expression tit for tat was used in printed word is thought to be in 1556 in the John Heywood parable The Spider and the Flie. In this work, the author writes:

“That is tit for tat in this altricacion.”

The phrase tit for tat was later popularized in the 20th century when it became the source of the word tifter, a Cockney rhyming slang for the word hat. Lexicographer Eric Partridge first recorded this in the year 1930 in Songs & Slang of the British Soldier. This was further popularized by British comedian Tommy Trinder, and has risen to popularity in both British English and American English.

How can the phrase tit for tat be used in a sentence?

The phrase tit for tat can be used in a variety of different circumstances to refer to some revenge or payback from one person to another. In this example, Trisha got engaged at Lindy’s wedding and she is still angry about it. She discussed her plans for Trisha’s wedding with her friend Ilsa.

Lindy: Are you going to go to Trisha’s wedding?

Ilsa: Yeah, I think it will be fun! Are you? I know things are still weird between you guys after she got engaged at your wedding. Major faux pas.

Lindy: I am absolutely going. And I’ll have a little announcement of my own.

Ilsa: What are you talking about?

Lindy: I’m going to announce my pregnancy at her wedding.

Ilsa: No. Lindy, you can’t do that.

Lindy: Of course I can. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye. One ruined wedding for another!

Here, Lindy uses the phrase tit for tat to imply that she will get even with Trisha by making her own announcement at her wedding.

What are synonyms and antonyms for the phrase tit for tat?

There are many different phrases that mean the equivalent to the expression tit for tat. These are called synonyms, which are words and phrases that share the same or similar definition. Synonyms are very useful to know if you are trying not to repeat yourself or if you are looking to expand your current vocabulary. This list of synonyms for the expression tit for tat is provided by Thesaurus.

  • equivalent
  • trade-off
  • vengefulness
  • retaliation
  • tooth for a tooth
  • settling of score
  • like for like
  • repayment
  • getting even
  • counterblow
  • requital
  • avenging
  • evening of score
  • quid pro quo
  • revenge
  • vengeance
  • measure for measure
  • wrath
  • something for something
  • return
  • avengement
  • eye for an eye
  • payback
  • vindication
  • reprisal
  • retribution

There are also numerous words and phrases that mean the opposite of the phrase tit for tat. These are called antonyms. Antonyms are also useful words and phrases to know when seeking to expand your vocabulary or knowledge of the English language. This list of antonyms for the phrase tit for tat are also provided by Thesaurus

  • overlook
  • extenuate
  • forgive
  • turn other cheek
  • let off
  • let pass
  • efface
  • excuse
  • wink at
  • let bygones be bygones
  • bear no malice
  • exempt
  • laugh off
  • release
  • purge
  • amnesty
  • reprieve
  • remit
  • let up on
  • exculpate
  • respite
  • exonerate
  • bury the hatchet
  • dismiss from mind
  • clear
  • allow for
  • absolve
  • forget
  • accept apology
  • kiss and make up
  • wipe slate clean
  • let it go
  • pocket
  • think no more of
  • acquit
  • let off easy
  • condone
  • make allowance
  • spring
  • commute
  • relent
  • bear with
  • palliate

Overall, the expression tit for tat refers to some form of revenge or payback in a way that is equivalent to some harm that has been done to another person. This form of revenge is often considered childish and immature.

Sources:

  1. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/tit%20for%20tat
  2. https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/forgive
  3. https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/tit-for-tat.html
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tit%20for%20tat
  5. https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/tit-for-tat
  6. https://www.wordsense.eu/tit_for_tat/#:~:text=(idiomatic)%20equivalent%20retribution%2C%20an,you%20back%3B%20tit%20for%20tat.