July 30, 2011

Natty and tatty

For the poetically inclined, here's a rhyming doublet I have been thinking about.  The contrast between "natty" and "tatty" is interesting.  According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary and others, "natty" means "trimly neat and tidy, smart," well-put-together, and typically refers to clothing or some room.  I don't really have any cites to hand, but the word seems British to me, and in British writing "nattily dressed" is almost a cliche.  It's not the direct opposite of "tatty," which I saw in the last New York Times Book Review.  Tatty can mean poorly maintained, but more often refers to the cheapness of the material of which the tatty item is constructed.   "'Even the jabiru storks,' he notes, 'seemed to belong to a long-lost age. They’d all stand around in their tatty coachman’s livery, stabbing at the frogs and then tossing them back like shots of gin'" (John Gimlette, Wild Coast, quoted in Liesl Schillinger, "Travels North of the Amazon," New York Times Book Review p. 17, July 24, 2011).

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