What does ‘tis mean?
Well, it’s an old—very old—contraction of it is. The apostrophe replaces the i in the word it to create ’tis . . . not quite how we create contractions today. According to Google’s Ngram Viewer, the contraction ’tis was a fan favorite in the early 1700s. At this time, it was likely used more often than it’s.
Why is ’tis used?
‘Tis is also known as a proclitic. This is a word that “is closely connected in pronunciation with the following word and does not have an independent accent or phonological status.” Which means ’tis was probably so popular because it was easy to say (it really does just roll of the tongue), especially if you needed to express yourself in a hurry or in the lyrics of a catchy tune.
‘Tis the season to be jolly?
Even though ’tis had been in (popular) use since the 1700s, it wasn’t until 1862, when “Deck the Halls” was released, that ’tis got into the holiday spirit. The “Deck The Halls” melody was originally sourced from a Welsh New Year’s Eve tune called “Nos Galan.” The English-language version of the song lyrics were written by Thomas Oliphant. Shakespeare and Charles Dickens had both used the contraction ’tis in their writing before Oliphant wrote the lyrics, so maybe he decided to channel the literary greats by using the contraction in his writing, as well. He also decided to make the song about Christmas when he wrote the lyrics, so maybe ’tis just had that cheerful vibe he was looking for. Either way, ’tis is now a staple of our festive lingo. (Want to learn more about other festive holiday phrases, check out this list!)