I am hopeless at quizzes. My general knowledge is generally lacking, and I'm embarrassed to say I know very little that's particularly interesting or useful. (Yes, I'll grant you, it's ironic to make such a claim on a blog about nuggets of wisdom.) My dearest friend from university life is a whizz, however, when it comes to knowing lots of things about lots of everything. If ever I was going to take part in a pub quiz (let's face it, that's highly unlikely) Louise is the girl I'd want on my team. And if ever they resurrect the Krypton Factor, she'll be deadly on the quick-fire General Knowledge round. You'll find me on the sidelines, shaking my cheerleading pom poms.
However, did you know that the dot over an 'i' or a 'j' is called a tittle. For a start, that's a hilarious word, don't you think? I mean, anything with that arrangement of letters just makes me hoot with laughter. I have a glorious relative who would say that the word 'tit' makes her want to vomit! A strong reaction indeed. But if you too are of a delicate nature and find yourself offended right now, then do accept my sincere apologies and I recommend you drown your sorrows in a bar of Cadbury's Caramel. I find such a delicacy an antidote to most misdemeanors.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, the tittle. A fascinating word, don't you think? A tittle is better known as a superscript dot or a diacritic dot, and originates from the Latin titulus meaning 'heading or inscription'. It was first noted in 11th-century Latin texts and was used to differentiate the two letters (i and j) in handwritten text. Some alphabets don't even include the dot above the letters, but I'm all in favour of it. I know forensic handwriting specialists will look for the inclusion or exclusion of the dot in handwriting samples, and even examine how close to the actual i or j it is. I had a quick practice and I have to say I seem to land my dot very imprecisely and inconsistently. Sometimes it's there, sometimes I omit it all together, most often it's wandered off and nonchalantly snuggled up with some neighbouring letter. I honestly have no idea what that says about me, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know. Yet what I really love is that someone took the time to name such a small, seemingly insignificant speck. A spot. A dot. A tittle.
You might be more familiar with the word tittle as in tittle-tattle. A quick blast of research tells me that tittle-tattle is defined as 'foolish, informal talk', or, more succinctly, 'gossip'. And how many of us have fallen foul of someone else's gossip or been the very subject of rumour? Moreover, how many of us have been the tittle-tattler, the one doing the muck spreading? Hands up at the back now. If you've managed to live your life without even once experiencing either of these things then I'll buy you that Cadbury's Caramel myself!
Parents throughout the ages have harried their children with the adage, 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.' Gossip is an insidious part of our culture, and we tolerate it simply because we've all been guilty of it. We've seen how rampantly those rumours and mean talk can spread and cause damage, rather like the bindweed that's currently threatening to completely swallow up my barbecue. I hate that plant so much. Whilst its white trumpet flowers are lovely, no matter how often I chop at it, no matter how many times I get the weed killer on it, it still manages to fight back. The truth is, unless I dig out every scrap of root that plant is going to continue growing and growing, appearing in the crevices between patio slabs and under fences. It attempts to choke out the plants I actually want to thrive in its own attempts to survive.
One of the biblical words used for someone who gossips is 'the whisperer' (Romans 1:30, 2 Corinthians 12:20) which points to the intimate nature of so much tittle-tattle. Gossip is frequently about sharing someone's personal information with someone else who doesn't need to know. Often times, that information can be factual, but regardless it can be twisted and contorted into something only resembling truth and that, in turn, becomes deeply destructive. Other times gossip is based on assumption, a misjudgment based on appearance, behaviour or misunderstanding, something that 'he said' or 'she said.' That bindweed I mentioned earlier entwines its way around anything through which it can climb. Its only goal is to grow vigorously and the result is the strangling of any nearby plant. So, too, gossip isn't concerned with truth or reputation. Worse still, we so often disguise it by pretending we're 'simply caring' or 'wanting to pray about it', when in truth we're after the juicy bits of detail.
We need to recognise that our tongues are more powerful and destructive than even the most virulent of weeds. We need to stop excusing gossip as 'no big deal' and see it for what it is—a killer. Words cut. Words wound. Words may not physically harm us but they certainly attack us from within. We need to join the dots and see that all our actions, including those words that we speak, have consequences.
'In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire.' — James 3:5-6 (NLT)