A tip on the origin of the word "tip'

Published Aug. 27, 1998|Updated Sept. 13, 2005

(ran ST edition)

According to a well-known story, tipping originated in 18th century English coffee houses and taverns. Supposedly, patrons would put coins in a box marked To Insure Promptness, or TIP.

However, nobody has ever found any antique TIP boxes or any mention of them in old books, diaries or letters. Moreover, acronyms, as such words are called, were so rare in earlier times that the word "acronym" itself didn't appear until the 1940s.

The people we tip _ waiters, bartenders, cab drivers, bell hops and so on _ all perform personal services that can greatly affect our enjoyment. For instance, we're likely to tip a waiter on the basis of pleasantness, tact, attentiveness to our table, accuracy in conveying our order and helpfulness with the menu.

Promptness probably isn't at the top of the list. In fact, it's something a waiter has little control over; dishes can't be served any faster than they come out of the kitchen. If you want promptness above all, you go to a fast-food place, where nobody even expects a tip.

In reality, tip is an 18th century English slang term meaning "to give," which had overtones of friendliness and informality. That's why we not only give tips of money to waiters but tips of inside information to our friends.

PEACH STAINS: To get peach stains out of washable fabric, sponge or soak the spots with cool water or rub with undiluted detergent then launder. Ironing before it is out will make it permanent.