Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Trust me--I do not know how to spell this word. It's going to be right in the title by the time you see this, but I am really just taking a random guess as I'm thinking about it. Oh, I know what it means all right--roughly anyway. 'Without a scintilla of proof' is close enough to 'without a shred of evidence' as to make no difference. But where does it come from? Is it Spanish? Italian? Latin? And why do we use it?

Uh, I got it right. No, really--I swear. It comes from the Latin 'spark'. I remain curious as to why so many words for the infinitesimal remain in our language. Iota, smidgen, jot, tittle.

One difference of scintilla--it can mean 'a sparkling, glistening particle'. I was somewhat surprised to realize that the word 'scintillating' is actually related. Hardly surprising, you say? It's just that they appear in such different contexts that I never made the connection.

scintillate: to throw off sparks, to flash.

to sparkle or shine

to be animated or brilliant--as in a dinner table conversation

Scintillating, mais non?


  1. Don't forget a whit! And does one ever see a jot without a tittle? A tittle without a jot?

    My v-word is what I would like to do if a compantion had sat down to dine, and I realized I was hungry as well: suptoo
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  2. I think you see a jot without a tittle (ie, 'not a jot of common sense')but not a tittle without a jot. Which doesn't make a whole lot of rational sense, unless there are a whole lot less tittles than jots, but there you have it.