The Grammarphobia Blog

“Ditto,” a word with a past

(An updated post about “ditto” appeared on March 13, 2014.)

Q: Do you know the origin of the word “ditto”? I use it all the time, but I have no idea where it comes from.

A: Believe it or not, “ditto” has ancient beginnings. It comes from the Latin dictus (having been said), which evolved into detto in standard Italian. In the Tuscan dialect, detto became ditto, which entered English in the early 17th century (the first published reference dates from 1625).

When it first appeared in English, “ditto” was used to avoid having to repeat a month or year in a date. Someone might have written, for example, “on 22 January and 25 ditto” to avoid having to say “on 22 January and 25 January.” Half a century later, in 1678, “ditto” was being used in a more general way to mean the same or aforementioned.

This information comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, John Ayto’s Dictionary of Word Origins, The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.

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