What does titivate mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: titivating.

I discovered the writing of Sarah Waters about 10 years ago when I read her marvellous 2002 novel Fingersmith. A Victorian crime novel with fine writing and breathtaking plotting (I recall gasping aloud at one of the especially surprising plot twists), the prose kept my nose in a book for about three days.

For those who are put off by this sort of thing, I should tell you that Waters, a lesbian, makes it her goal to write lesbian love stories. For me, this makes no difference. She’s a superb writer with an ear for metaphor. (See my round-up of her best metaphors from this book next week.)

In this book, she also gave me my word of the week: titivating. Here’s how she used it:

I leave the titivating to Lilian. She loves all that sort of thing. She can titivate for England, she can.

I hadn’t heard the word before so had to look it up. It means to make small enhancing alterations to something. Synonyms include: grooming, smartening up, preening and primping.

The source of the word is unclear but it’s thought to come from the word tidy, with what my etymological dictionary calls “a quasi-Latin ending.”