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Nothing says "I love you" like "ditto"

Valentine’s Day was yesterday, and maybe you’re still aglow from the candle-lit dinner you shared with your beloved at a fancy French restaurant.

Maybe you’re thinking about how, after the cheese plate, the chocolate mousse and a whole lot of wine, you finally got up the nerve to whisper “I love you.”

Just then the music swelled, and you waited with bated breath for your beloved’s response:


Wait, what?

That’s what they say. And by “they” we mean people who’ve seen Ghost too many times to count.

Ghost isn’t what got host Rina Miller thinking about “ditto.” She heard it used on Downton Abbey, presumably not as a response to “I love you.”

“Ditto” has such a modern ring, Miller and University of Michigan English professor Ann Curzan were both convinced its use on a show set in the early 20th century had to be a mistake.

They were wrong.

As it turns out, “ditto” comes from an Italian word meaning “said” or “aforesaid” and made its way into English in the 17th century.

“At first it referred to, very specifically, the month you had already mentioned but quickly extends to anything you had already mentioned,” Curzan said.

The verb form rolls out in the 18th century as a way to express agreement and is soon followed by the noun form, “a copy of something.”

For those of you who are a little more, ahem, mature, “ditto” may bring to mind aromatic purple ink and freshly smudged copies. As you now know, the term definitely predates your school’s mimeograph machine.

“1919, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is when it shows up as the proprietary name for that kind of duplicating machine, but they were using the sense of ‘ditto’ that had been around earlier,” Curzan said.

That included the ditto mark, the single quotation mark we still use sometimes to show repetition in a list of words or figures.

So there you have it. 17th century Italian, a symbol for repetition, mimeographs.

Kind of spoils that lusty pottery-making session with the Righteous Brothers playing in the background, doesn’t it?


Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.