This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nuts and Bolts: tic tac.

What language do you speak with white gloves on, and standing on a crate?

The answer is tic tac. (Or tick-tack or something similar, there are lots of variations.)

As the white gloves suggest, tic tac is a sign language, and, as the crate indicates, it's for communicating across distances.

Tic tac was used to let people know betting odds at race courses, and until recently its use was fairly widespread. It used to be secret, too, but now the mobile phone and computers have almost entirely taken over tic tac's function there's no need for it to be secret any more.

File:Degas, Race Horses in a Landscape.jpg
Edgar Degas, Race horses in a landscape.

Odds of 9/4, for instance, were conveyed by touching both hands to the top of the head. Odds of 33/1 were represented by crossing the arms across the chest.

Within tic tac there were dialects - the south of England's touch of an ear was the touch of an elbow in the north.

As well as these signs, there were words, too. Some were based on rhymes (Burlington Bertie, 100 to 30); some on backslang (net, 10 to 1); some on the sign language (ear'ole, which was 6 to 4); some on the numbers themselves (century, 100 to 1); and some have  German or French influences (elef a vier, 11 to 4). Exes, 6 to 1, is German (sort of) and backslang.

Though why 5 to 1 should be called ching I have not the faintest idea.

Alas, alas, tic tac is nearly gone. I wish someone would write a musical with a tic tac chorus.

That's the only way I can see of keeping it alive.

Thing To Do Today: some tic tac. When someone says do you think it's going to rain? show the odds by touching your ear (6-4) or crossing your hand on your chest (33-1) and think of beautiful horses.




  1. Oh, what a shame. It's yet another thing going by the wayside.
    Technology can be a wonderful thing, but at what cost?
    I never even got the privilege of seeing it.
    Not that I would've understood the signals, but II feel deprived!

    1. Yes, it is a shame. But on the other hand I bet the bookies' wives are glad not to be washing all those white gloves all the time.