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Lizzie Tish (or Tizzy Lish)

Q From Lucille Zolty: We (three senior citizens) are trying to find the origin of the phrase lizzie tish. We all remember our mothers calling us that, but haven’t a clue where it came from. We are all from different ethnic backgrounds, two from New York and one from Connecticut, and are sure we heard it sometime in the 1940s. Can you find any reference to this so we can stop thinking about it? It is driving us nuts, like an itch that you can’t reach.

A I can relieve your itch. You can’t find the original because your version is a spoonerism. Why or when it became inverted, I’ve no way of knowing, but most of the references I can find also have it as Lizzie Tish. But the original was certainly Tizzie Lish, a character played by Bill Comstock on the radio show Al Pearce and His Gang. The show began on KFRC in San Francisco in 1929 but moved to NBC in 1933, where it continued until 1947. Tizzie was usually all of a dither and she would proceed to dictate very bad recipes, insisting that listeners find a pencil and paper to write them down.

I don’t usually answer questions about old radio shows, but Tizzy Lish seems to be linguistically significant. Our word tizzy for being in a state of nervous excitement, agitation or worry is recorded first in the US in 1935 and almost certainly comes from — or at least was popularised by — the radio character. (It was also once a nickname for a coin, the old British sixpence, but nobody thinks that had anything to do with the matter.)

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Mar. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 25 March 2000.