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To a T

  • The idiom is to a T, not to a tee or to a tea.1 The origins of this expression are mysterious, but it might refer to the T-square, a drawing instrument used in drafting. It might also have to do with crossing one’s T’s, as in the expression dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. Whatever its origins, the expression now means perfectly or exactly, and it usually takes a capital T. Some writers put quotation marks around the T, but this is unnecessary.

    Examples

    My gender has nothing to do with my frustration here: it’s 2011 and I am not Suzy Homemaker from 1952 who follows rigid gender roles to a T. [The Frisky]

    It fits to a T the reform pledge that former Mayor Ed Koch circulated during the campaign – signed by 138 of the state’s 212 legislators. [New York Daily News]

    [H]e seems like the kind of guy who would value life experience more than possessions, and at times that philosophy fits him to a T.  [Superbike Planet]

    After finding out its definition, she decided the word fit her sixth-grade girls team to a T. [The Salem News]

    External Links

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    To a T at The Phrase Finder

    Reference

    1. Double in the OED (subscription required)

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    Comments

    1. reardensteel says:

      My mom always says to the T but, then, she says a lot of expressions incorrectly.

      • I’m translating a video about law enforcement people. One of them said, “You
        don’t know exactly to the T what to prepare for, so it’s just better
        to kinda like know all the techniques when you go in there for the
        testing.” So I suppose quite a few people might say it with the definite article.

    2. Read an article a moment ago that said it could derive from golf or, more likely, if at all, curling, though it definitely clarified that it was certainly not definitive at all. In curling, the center of the target is called the tee, so a perfect shot would be a shot “to the tee,” which would make sense, but still seems a stretch.

    3. Think I read that same article. Best answer appears to be that it’s just a shortened version of an older English expression “To a tittle”, which meant exactly the same thing “to a T” means now. A tittle was a tiny mark in writing, like the dot over an “i”, so to have completed a paper down “to a tittle” would literally equal having “crossed every T and dotted every I”.

    4. Russell Speight says:

      This is just a wild-ass-guess but I feel it deals with roads: following a road to a T-intersection. My two cents.

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