The Hidden Power of Words: ‘Tidy’

posted in: Language 2

ti·dy |ˈtīdē|
1 arranged neatly and in order


For today’s venture into etymology (as related to the world of order, organization and organizing, of course), I bring you the word, ‘tidy.’

Tidy. You know, it’s that word that we use so frequently in speech as in, “I have to tidy up my room/things,” or “Tidy up your room!,” or “Go and get tidied up before dinner!” But what about the origin of this word? Does tidy have anything to do with the sweeping tides of the ocean? (such as using water to get cleaned up before dinner perhaps?).  It is time for all to become clear for the word ‘tidy.’

ORIGIN Middle English: from the noun tide + -y 1 . The original meaning was [timely, opportune]; it later had various senses expressing approval, usually of a person, including [attractive,] [healthy,] and [skillful]; the sense [orderly, neat] dates from the early 18th cent.

Hmm, ‘timely,’ or ‘opportune.’ I guess that falls along the lines of ‘making the best use out of the time you have’? In any case it looks like we have to look up the word ‘tide’ to find out more:

ORIGIN Old English tīd [time, period, era,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch tijd and German Zeit, also to time. The sense relating to the sea dates from late Middle English.

Oops, it looks like my guess about the ocean tides is for ‘tidy’ is incorrect. As noted above, the origin of ‘tidy’ stems from ‘tide,’ which is of Germanic origin and can represent ‘time’ ‘period’ or ‘era.’

In today’s modern usage, we might make something ‘tidy’ by cleaning something up or putting it in order. Another way to look at it through the word’s roots is that we are, in essence, “making time.” Just think about it, if we tidy up something now, we’ll have it in order for later, whereby we’ll have more time to do whatever else it is we want to do.

Here’s another thought. Whenever I think of the word ‘tidy,’ I tend to think of something as being tidied quickly, rather than slowly. I suppose you could do a slow ‘tidy’ though, it is tidying just the same. All in good time!

Note: Dictionary used for definitions and references is The New Oxford American Dictionary, Version 2.1.3 (80.4), Apple Inc., Copyright 2005-2009.

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Rashelle Isip is a New York City-based professional organizer and productivity consultant who helps people get organized so they can stress less, have more fun, and be happier at home. Her work has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Fast Company, Cosmopolitan, The Washington Post, Business Insider, and The Atlantic. Get access to her free guide, 10 Simple Ways to Make Your To-Do Lists More Effective, by clicking here.

2 Responses

  1. jo

    What is the result when I use the word “tidy.”


    • theorderexpert

      Hi Jo,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m wondering if others think, “Just what items/space/room should I tidy up now?” or perhaps, “Where should I start tidying up at home?” when they think about the word tidy?