The Grammarphobia Blog

Toot suite

Q: My landlord says his daughter, a tutor of something or other, is looking for an office to “tut” in. He pronounces it TOOT, which has me wondering if “toot” is the root of “tutor”?

A: How we wish the answer were “yes”! But unfortunately, “toot” is not the root of “tutor.”

The noun “tutor,” first recorded in writing in 1377, originally meant “a guardian, custodian, keeper; a protector, defender,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

In the 1380s, the OED says, it was also used in the sense of “one who has the custody of a ward; a guardian.”

The surviving meanings of the word – someone who teaches or supervises young people, whether in a university or in a private household – evolved in the 1390s and later.

The verb “tutor,” which first was recorded in 1592, has always had the modern meaning – to instruct or teach.

The OED says the noun was directly adopted into English either from the Old French or Anglo-French tutour, or from the Latin tutor (watcher or protector). The ultimate source was the Latin verb tueri (watch or guard).

The verb “toot” (to blow a horn) has Germanic roots, not Latin ones. It was first recorded in English in 1510, according to citations in the OED, but it existed earlier in other Germanic languages.

Why “toot”? It’s probably an imitative word, one whose sound echoes its meaning.

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