Dictionary.com

tit for tat

Save This Word!

noun

with an equivalent given in retaliation, as a blow for a blow, repartee, etc.: He answered their insults tit for tat.

QUIZZES

QUIZ YOURSELF ON THE 12 TYPES OF VERB TENSES!

Loosen up your grammar muscles because it’s time to test your knowledge on verb tenses!
Question 1 of 6
The verb tenses can be split into which 3 primary categories?

Meet Grammar Coach

Write or paste your essay, email, or story into Grammar Coach and get grammar helpImprove Your Writing

Meet Grammar Coach

Improve Your Writing
Write or paste your essay, email, or story into Grammar Coach and get grammar help

Origin of tit for tat

First recorded in 1550–60; perhaps variant of earlier tip for tap

Words nearby tit for tat

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

BEHIND THE PHRASE

What does tit for tat mean?

Tit for tat is used to refer to a situation in which an action or retaliation is equivalent to the action that it is done in response to.

The phrase is most often used in the context of a wrong being committed against someone who then does the same or a similar thing to the person who did it to them, as in If you break my stuff, I break yours—it’s tit for tat.

Tit for tat is often used after the verb go, as in The two of them were going tit for tat, trading insults one after another.

The phrase is sometimes hyphenated, as tit-for-tat.

Example: Until I made a mistake, the chess game was tit for tat, with each of us capturing pieces back and forth.

Where does tit for tat come from?

The first records of the phrase tit for tat come from the mid-1500s. The first recorded uses of it are by English playwright John Heywood. It’s thought to be a variant of the earlier phrase tip for tap, in which both tip and tap mean “a small blow” (as in a hit or punch).

The phrase an eye for an eye is similar, but is most commonly used in the context of justice.

Tit for tat is sometimes used to mean something similar to quid pro quo, which is used in situations in which something is offered only when something is given in return. Quid pro quo may be especially associated with tit for tat because the Latin phrase is sometimes translated as the similar-sounding “this for that.” However, quid pro quo is not usually used to refer to retaliation.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to tit for tat?

  • tit-for-tat (alternate hyphenated spelling)

What are some synonyms for tit for tat?

What are some words that share a root or word element with tit for tat?

What are some words that often get used in discussing tit for tat?

How is tit for tat used in real life?

Tit for tat is usually used in negative contexts involving some kind of retaliation.

Try using tit for tat!

Is tit for tat used correctly in the following sentence?

It was an extremely close debate—the teams went tit for tat.

How to use tit for tat in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for tit for tat

tit for tat

noun

an equivalent given in return or retaliation; blow for blow

Word Origin for tit for tat

C16: from earlier tip for tap
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for tit for tat

tit for tat

Giving back exactly what one receives: “If you hit me, I'll do the same to you; it's tit for tat.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with tit for tat

tit for tat

Repayment in kind, retaliation, as in If he won't help with the beach clean-up, I won't run a booth at the bake sale; that's tit for tat. This term is believed to be a corruption of tip for tap, which meant “a blow for a blow.” Its current form dates from the mid-1500s.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
FEEDBACK