Culture and Society

What is the origin of the word "tip," with reference to gratuity?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Sometimes it seems like tips are required everywhere we go, from restaurants to hair salons to parking lots. The practice of tipping varies around the world, and sometimes it's hard to know when and how much you're supposed to give. We've all heard the joke when someone brings up leaving a tip -- instead of leaving money, the jokester will offer to leave a tip in the form of a tidbit of advice, playing with the double meaning of the word. So, if it means leaving money instead of leaving wise words, why do we use the word "tip" when referring to gratuity?

    One theory about the origin of the English word "tip" maintains that the word at one time was a verb that meant "to give" or "to hand over." This explanation has some historical basis, since it's believed that during feudal times, lords, when traveling, sought to guarantee safe trips by throwing gold "tips" at peasants they encountered along the way. Some believe the word came about during the 16th-century Roman Empire, and "tip" was an acronym for "to insure promptitude;" however, this is disputed by those who claim that acronyms weren't used until the 20th century [source: Templeton]. Another theory holds that "tip" is derived from ancient thieves' slang, in which the word meant "to give; pass along" [source: Random House].

    Whatever the meaning of the word, one thing is clear: When someone holds out his or her hand for a tip, they're not requesting your sage advice. They probably rely on those small gratuities to supplement their income.

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