A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 12, 2009
“To Insure Promptness” ("tip” false etymology)

"Tip” (and “tips") is often said (incorrectly) to be an acronym of:

. To Insure Promptness.
. To Insure Performance.
. To Improve Performance.
. To Insure Prompt Service.
. To Insure Proper Service.

The 1895 New York (NY) Tribune published an etymology of the wrord “tip” stating that an old time English tavern had box for coins, upon which was written the words “To Insure Promptness.” In a widely reprinted 1919 newspaper story, it was stated that the King’s Head tavern in London “100 years ago” had a box upon which was written ‘To Insure Prompt Service.” The false “tip” (or “tips") etymologies were frequently reprinted in early 1900s newspapers.

The word “tip” is cited since the 1700s as a form of the word “tip” (meaning “to give” or “to hand” or “pass” or “to let one have").


Wikipedia: Tip
A tip (also called a gratuity) is a payment made to certain service sector workers in addition to the advertised price of the transaction. The amount of a tip is typically calculated as a percentage of the transaction value before applicable taxes. Such payments and their size are a matter of social custom. Tipping varies among cultures and by service industry. Though by definition a tip is never legally required, and its amount is at the discretion of the person being served, in some circumstances failing to give an adequate tip when one is expected may be considered very miserly, a violation of etiquette, or unethical. In some other cultures or situations, giving a tip is not expected and offering one would be considered condescending or demeaning. In some circumstances (such as tipping government workers), tipping is illegal.

Etymology
The word originates from the 16th century verb tip, which meant “to give, hand, pass” and “to tap”, possibly being derived from the Low German word tippen, meaning “to tap.” The modern German term for a tip is the unrelated Trinkgeld, literally “drink money.”

The notion of a stock tip is from the same slang, and the expression hot tip, as in a sure winner in a horse race, also comes from the act of tapping. In the old days, during card games, gamblers would have an accomplice in the room. This accomplice would signal the player regarding the contents of an opponent’s hand by “tipping the wink” - that is, by “tapping” out a code with his eyelid. The Oxford English Dictionary states that tip is derived from the English thieves’ (which may be taken to mean “gambler") slang word tip, meaning “to pass from one to another” (cf. “to give unexpectedly").

The word “tip” is often inaccurately claimed to be an acronym for terms such as “to insure prompt service”, “to insure proper service”, “to improve performance”, and “to insure promptness”. However, this etymology contradicts the Oxford English Dictionary and is probably an example of a backronym. Moreover, most of these backronyms incorrectly require the word “insure” instead of the correct “ensure”.

Some claim that the origin for this term is a concept from Judaism, in that it was a chiyuv (obligation) for a seller to “tip the scales” in favor of the customer. The Torah says, ”Nosen lo girumov (Give to him a tip).” For example, if your customer has asked for three pounds of onions, you should measure out the three pounds plus one extra onion, tipping the scale in his favor.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
tip, v.
colloq. (orig. slang).  To give a gratuity to; to bestow a small present of money upon (an inferior), esp. upon a servant or employee of another, nominally in return for a service rendered or in order to obtain an extra service; also upon a child or schoolboy. Const. with.
1706-7 FARQUHAR Beaux Strat. II. ii, Then I, Sir, tips me the Verger with half a Crown. 1
733 SWIFT Legion Club 134 Tipping him with half a crown, Now, said I, we are alone.
1747 Gentl. Mag. Mar. 147/1 T’wou’d have paid The reck’ning clean, and tipp’d the maid.
1752 FIELDING Amelia XI. v, He advised his friend..to begin with tipping (as it is called) the great man’s servant.
c1810 W. HICKEY Mem. (1960) x. 164 Joseph Polt..whom I had frequently called upon, and tipped at Eton School.
1848 THACKERAY Contrib. to Punch Wks. 1886 XXIV. 189 You..used to tip me when I was a boy at school.
1883 J. H. INGRAM in Harper’s Mag. July 231/2 He had..tipped him to the extent of a sixpence.
1939 G. B. SHAW Geneva II. 38, I havnt exchanged twenty words with the boy since I tipped him when he was going from Eton to Oxford.

tip, n.
A small present of money given to an inferior, esp. to a servant or employee of another for a service rendered or expected; a gratuity, a douceur: see TIP v.4 2. Also, a present of money given to a schoolboy by an older person.
1755 J. BAREBONES in Connoisseur No. 70. 417, I assure you I have laid out every farthing..in tips to his servants.
c1810 W. HICKEY Mem. (1960) ii. 38, I secured a handsome tip, the Westminster phrase for a present of cash.
1812 J. H. VAUX Flash Dict. s.v., To take the tip, is to receive a bribe in any shape; and they say of a person who is known to be corruptible, that he will stand the tip.
1818 Sporting Mag. II. 165 A handsome tip was demanded at the gate.
1825 T. HOOK Sayings Ser. II. Doubts & F. i, Sir Harry was liberal in his ‘tips’, and consequently a great favourite of Phillips [the waiter].
1855 THACKERAY Newcomes xvi, What money is better bestowed than that of a schoolboy’s tip?
1877 BLACK Green Past. xxx, Two sovereigns was the least tip to be slipped into the hands of the custom-house officer. Mod. The porter will expect a tip.

15 September 1895, Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, “Origin of the Word Fad,” second part, pg. 10:
New York Tribune: (...) The word “tip” originated, it is said, in that way. The story goes that in an old time English tavern a receptacle for small coin was placed in a conspicuos place over which appeared the legend, “To insure promptness.” Whatever was placed in the box was given to the servants. Other taverns followed the example, and soon the three words were written “T. I. P.,” everybody knowing what they indicated. Then the punctuation marks were dropped, and the word “tip” was born. “Fad” and “tip” are of the same class and kind.

13 January 1896, Morning Herald (KY), pg. 4:
THE word “tips” originated by having a box for contributions marked: “To insure promptness.” Some genius removed all but the initial letters and the pounctuation marks and hence came “tip,” with its plural “tips.”

Google Books
February 1898, Popular Science Monthly, pg. 540:
I suppose this appeasing perquisite for spirit drudgery was but a forerunner of the modern servant’s “tip,” an abbreviated form of “to insure promptness.”

25 September 1919, Wyoming State Tribune—Cheyenne State Leader (Cheyenne, WY), pg. 12:
nearly a hundred years ago the proprietor of the King’s Head coffee house in London placed a box by the door, on which he wrote: “To Insure Prompt Service.” His patrons dropped coins in it. Ergo—the word “tips” is taken from the first letter in each word of his phrase.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Thursday, March 12, 2009 • Permalink