patter (v.1)

"make a quick succession of small taps," 1610s, frequentative of pat (v.). Related: Pattered; pattering. As a noun, "a quick succession of small sounds," by 1844. Phrase patter of tiny (or little) feet, suggestive of the presence or expectation of a child, is by 1858, in an anonymous poem, "The Patter of Little Feet."

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patter (v.2)

"talk glibly or rapidly, chatter," mid-15c., from Middle English pateren "mumble prayers rapidly" (late 14c.), a shortened form of paternoster in allusion to the low, indistinct repetition of the prayer in churches. Perhaps influenced by patter (v.1). The related noun is first recorded 1758, originally "cant language of thieves and beggars," later "glib or fluent talk of a stage comedian, salesman, etc."  Compare piter-pater "a babbled prayer" (mid-15c.), also Devil's paternoster (1520s) "a grumbling and mumbling to oneself." A pattercove in 16c. canting slang was a strolling priest.

PATTERING. The maundering or pert replies of servants; also talk or palaver in order to amuse one intended to be cheated. [Grose, "Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 2nd edition. 1788]
[T]he Pater-noster, up to the time of the Reformation, was recited by the priest in a low voice as far as 'and lead us not into temptation' when the choir joined in. [John S. Farmer, "Musa Pedestris," 1896]
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pitter-patter (n.)

early 15c., "rapid repetition of words," from a rhyming reduplication of patter (v.2). As "alternating light beating sounds," 1670s, from patter (v.1). As a verb in this sense by 1708. Compare pit-a-pat.

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dodder (v.)

"to shake, tremble," 1610s, perhaps a variant of dadder, from Middle English daderen "to quake, tremble" (mid-14c.) a frequentative formation on a pattern similar to totter, patter, etc. Wedgwood points to a large group of similar words signifying motion to and fro, including dither, diddle, dandle, toddle, doddle ("shake the head," 1650s). Related: Doddered; doddering.

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scat (n.1)

"nonsense patter sung to jazz," 1926, probably of imitative origin, from one of the syllables used. As a verb, by 1935. Related: Scatting.

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bicker (v.)
early 14c., bikere, "to skirmish, fight," perhaps from Middle Dutch bicken "to slash, stab, attack," + -er, Middle English frequentative suffix (as in blabber, hover, patter). Meaning "to quarrel, petulantly contend with words" is from mid-15c. Meaning "make a noisy, repeated clatter" is from 1748. Related: Bickered; bickering.
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smatter (v.)
early 15c., "talk idly, chatter; talk ignorantly or superficially," of uncertain origin, perhaps imitative. Similar forms are found in Middle High German smetern "to chatter" and Swedish smattra "to patter, rattle," and compare Danish snaddre "chatter, jabber," Dutch snateren, German schnattern "cackle, chatter, prattle." Related: Smattered; smattering.
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presto (adv.)

1590s, "quickly, immediately," a word used by conjurers, etc., from Italian presto "quick, quickly" in conjuror's patter, from Latin praestus "ready," praesto (adv.) "ready, available," from prae "before" (see pre-) + stare "to stand," from PIE root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm." Compare Latin praesto esse "to be at hand, be ready," source of French prêt "ready," and compare press (v.2). As a musical direction, "in rapid tempo," it is a separate borrowing from Italian, first recorded 1680s (Purcell).

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queer (v.)

"to spoil, ruin," 1812, slang, from queer (adj.). Related: Queered; queering. Earlier it meant "to puzzle, ridicule, deride, cheat" (1790). To queer the pitch (1846) is in reference to the patter of an itinerant tradesman or showman (see pitch (n.1)).

These wanderers, and those who are still seen occasionally in the back streets of the metropolis, are said to 'go a-pitching ;' the spot they select for their performance is their 'pitch,' and any interruption of their feats, such as an accident, or the interference of a policeman, is said to 'queer the pitch,'—in other words, to spoil it. [Thomas Frost, "Circus Life and Circus Celebrities," London, 1875]
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slang (n.)

1756, "special vocabulary of tramps or thieves," later "jargon of a particular profession" (1801). The sense of "very informal language characterized by vividness and novelty" is by 1818.

Anatoly Liberman writes here an extensive account of the established origin of the word from the Northern England noun slang "a narrow piece of land running up between other and larger divisions of ground" and the verb slanger "linger, go slowly," which is of Scandinavian origin (compare Norwegian slenge "hang loose, sling, sway, dangle," Danish slænge "to throw, sling"). "Their common denominator seems to be 'to move freely in any direction' " [Liberman]. Noun derivatives of these (Danish slænget, Norwegian slenget) mean "a gang, a band," and Liberman compares Old Norse slangi "tramp" and slangr "going astray" (used of sheep). He writes:

It is not uncommon to associate the place designated for a certain group and those who live there with that group’s language. John Fielding and the early writers who knew the noun slang used the phrase slang patter, as though that patter were a kind of talk belonging to some territory.

So the sense evolution would be from slang "a piece of delimited territory" to "the territory used by tramps for their wandering," to "their camping ground," and finally to "the language used there." The sense shift then passes through itinerant merchants:

Hawkers use a special vocabulary and a special intonation when advertising their wares (think of modern auctioneers), and many disparaging, derisive names characterize their speech; charlatan and quack are among them.

Liberman concludes: 

[Slang] is a dialectal word that reached London from the north and for a long time retained the traces of its low origin. The route was from "territory; turf" to "those who advertise and sell their wares on such a territory," to "the patter used in advertising the wares," and to "vulgar language" (later to “any colorful, informal way of expression”).


[S]lang is a conscious offence against some conventional standard of propriety. A mere vulgarism is not slang, except when it is purposely adopted, and acquires an artificial currency, among some class of persons to whom it is not native. The other distinctive feature of slang is that it is neither part of the ordinary language, nor an attempt to supply its deficiencies. The slang word is a deliberate substitute for a word of the vernacular, just as the characters of a cipher are substitutes for the letters of the alphabet, or as a nickname is a substitute for a personal name. [Henry Bradley, from "Slang," in Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th ed.]

A word that ought to have survived is slangwhanger (1807, American English) "noisy or abusive talker or writer."

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