One of the most popular posts on HH this week was the verb kittle-pitcher, meaning “to prevent someone from telling a boring or longwinded story by constantly interrupting them with pointless contradictions.”
Over on Twitter, we illustrated that fact with an extract from a nineteenth century dictionary of “buckish slang” entitled Lexicon Balatronicum (“The Buffoon’s Dictionary”). But kittle-pitchering, alongside definitions like that one above, has been listed in similar slang glossaries since the mid 1700s, suggesting it first began to be used sometime in the early eighteenth century.
Etymologically, kittle-pitchering entails “pitching kittles” into a conversation in order to disrupt the flow. Pitching in this sense just means “throwing”, but kittles are little more puzzling. Quite literally, in fact.
As a verb, kittle has a long history stretching back to the Old English period, when it originally meant “to tickle” (as it still does in some dialects of English, most notably Scots). But over the centuries that meaning broadened, so that by the Middle English period kittle was being used more generally to mean “to excite”, “rouse”, or “stir with emotion”. An adjective, kittle or kittlish , soon followed and began to be used to mean “ticklish”, “touchy”, “troublesome”, and eventually, “difficult to deal with”.
That makes kittle-staps doddering, tottering, unsteady steps. Kittle-the-cout is a game in which a concealed handkerchief has to be found. And kittle-questions are difficult or perplexing questions or problems. Ultimately, kittling—or rather, kittle-pitchering—someone in a conversation means confounding them with so many pointless questions that they eventually give up all hope of finishing their story.
Whoever you want to try that out on, of course, is up to you.