Jots and Tittles

The term "jots and tittles" comes to us through the Christian Bible. It is from the Sermon on the mount, the book of Matthew (5:11). In the King James Version, Jesus says:

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

In this short passage Jesus is saying that the Mosaic Law set down in the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments, must be fully obeyed for a person to get into heaven. The "jot and tittle" refers to Hebrew writing. "Jot" is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, actually "YOD". It is not much bigger than an apostrophe. It looks like this: י. A "tittle" is a little horn on the end of a letter, rather like a serif on a capital letter in the English alphabet.

When someone says "every jot and tittle" they mean something to the effect of "every minute rule". It is similar to saying "all the 'i's must be dotted and all the 't's crossed." Only "jots and tittles" generally implies precise rules are already laid out and both the letter as well as the spirit of those rules must be followed, while "dotting 'i's and crossing 't's" implies more latitude in the content but more precision in the form.

The saying might be more favorably compared with "minding your 'p's and 'q's", which has a moral component. It means to not only follow the rules, but to "be good" as well.

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