Titch: A small person.
This sense of titch* was new to me until very recently, when I encountered it in a brief New York Times Sunday Magazine story about Fatyo, a Japanese retailer that specializes in apparel that is—quoting directly now from the Fatyo website—“Metropolitan, tough. Real and daily, casual clothes. Identity always on the street. Representing Tokyo. FAT.” (Not phat: FAT.)
The Times story, in full:
Euphemism-averse sneakerheads might consider buying clothes from Tokyo-based Fatyo, a tell-it-like-it-is streetwear brand that sizes not with traditional words or numbers but with more descriptive terms: “titch” and “skinny” on the small end of the spectrum, “fat” and “jumbo” on the other. The website burbles: “Being Fat. Wanting to be FAT. Being more like you, to be FAT.” It might be a tough sell in Japan, where the obesity rate is an enviable 3.5 percent.
This illustration accompanied the story:
In English-speaking countries, when sizes aren’t expressed numerically they’re usually given as Extra-Small, Small, Medium, Large, and Extra-Large. J. Crew, the American retailer, caused a bit of a furor earlier this year when it introduced clothes with an XXXS label. (For more on this move, and on “vanity sizing” in general, read “Who’s Buying J. Crew’s New XXXS Clothes?” in the New Yorker; for a larger historical perspective, read Kathleen Fasanella on the history of women’s sizing.)
I’d read (and tweeted) about Fatyo’s unusual size categories in June, but back then only the “fat” and “jumbo” designations had made headlines and raised eyebrows. Now titch piqued my curiosity. Did it have a Japanese origin, like skosh (from sukoshi, meaning “little”), to which many Americans were introduced via Levi’s ads in the 1980s? (Levi’s even trademarked the phrase “with a skosh more room.”)
Not at all, as it turns out. Titch is “a mainly British and Australian colloquial term,” according to the authoritative source World Wide Words. And it’s an eponym—sort of.
Here’s the WWW explanation:
The original was Little Tich, a famous music hall performer whose real name was Harry Relph. He was born in 1867 with slightly webbed hands that had an extra finger on each. He stopped growing at age 10 and as an adult was only 4 ft 6 ins tall (about 1.4 m). As a child, he was nicknamed Tichborne because he was short and stoutly built, like Arthur Orton, the famous fraudulent claimant to the Tichborne inheritance.
Little Tich himself, via World Wide Words.
In case you’re not up on your Victorian legal scandals (I certainly wasn’t), the Tichborne case centered on Roger Tichborne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy, who was presumed to have died in a shipwreck in 1854.
World Wide Words has this to say about the spelling of titch:
At some point — it’s hard to be sure when, though presumably long enough after Little Tich’s death in 1928 for the link to him to be broken — the spelling largely shifted to titch to match that of rhyming words like itch, pitch and stitch.
I still don’t know how titch made its way to Japan. A British or Australian copywriter? One of those quirky borrowings with a lost history? I await the wisdom of the Internet.
* I’d occasionally heard titch in the sense of “a small amount,” as in “I’ll have a titch more coffee.” This sense may be related to touch.