TYWKIWDBI (“Tai-Wiki-Widbee” [“Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently.”]) explains a word hitherto unknown to me; the post opens with a close-up photo of a canceled stamp, and continues:

When I sold this 1902 KEVII official stamp on eBay, I described it as having a “bold full-date upright Liverpool cancel” and mentioned to the winning bidder that it had a “ditzel” that might be removed to enhance the cosmetic appearance, though it wouldn’t add to the substantial monetary value.

The new owner (in Glasgow) messaged me back his pleasure re the stamp but asked for clarification on the word “ditzel,” which was new to him. This surprised me, as I have used the term my entire adult life, so I did some research. I couldn’t find it in my OED, nor in my Random House dictionary. Thence to the internet, where I found this in a StackExchange post about orthography, asking whether “ditzel” is a “real word”:

“When I was a Cardiology fellow at UMass Medical Center, there was a technician who would use a certain word to mean “a little”. It sounded like /a ditzle/. I never asked her how it was spelled and later when I tried to look for the spelling in dictionaries, I never found it. The context would be something like: “Can you see any regurgitation on the screen?”, “Just a “ditzle”, meaning “very little”.” …

[a reply]: “Although not found in Dorland’s Medical Dictionary, the term ditzel is universally recognized among radiologists as a very small nodule found in the lung. … The origins of this word are obscure.” [Mundsen RF, Hess KR. “Ditzels” on Chest CT: Survey of Members of the Society of Thoracic Radiology. AJR 2001; 176:1363-1369.]

Since I spent 30 professional years examining chest xrays with radiologists, that may be where I picked up the term, but it’s not unique to radiology. Again, from the StackExchange post:

In surgery we use the term “ditzel” to mean “a little nothing” or a piece of small, inconsequential tissue. For example, surgeon wipes instrument on sponge, leaving small globule of tissue. Nurse asks “Is this a specimen?”, surgeon replies “No, just a ditzel. ” Meaning it’s nothing, junk, unknown and can be ignored.”

I passed that observation on to an experienced pathologist, who said that in pathology laboratories, specimens are occasionally sorted into categories for examination: surgical specimens, small biopsies, and the incidental “ditzels.”

So, it is a “real word,” in the category of jargon. […] Question for readers: in your experience, does the term “ditzel” extend beyond the medical field to other professional or technical areas? Just curious.

It’s a charming word that I will try to add to my repertoire (it will alternate with “tad” and “skosh”), and I second the final question. Thanks, hat_eater!


  1. cuchuflete says

    Went hunting for a bit of etymology and found this:

    “ Ditzel: a small, unidentified mass seen on an X-ray, usually benign by implication. ”The CAT scan was fine except for a vague ditzel in the parietal lobe, probably a calcium deposit.” (See also goombah.)”

    source: https://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-hospital-lingo-what-s-a-bed-plug-an-lol-in-nad.html

    Now I have to find the medical residency sense of goombah. Drat!

    Ahhh, that wasn’t so hard.

    “ Goombah, sometimes spelled goomba, is a term for Italian-Americans that’s sometimes used disparagingly. Physicians use the same word for the blobs on CT scans indicating a possible tumor, but this sense probably derives from the evil mushrooms in Super Mario Bros., known as goombas. The game was released in 1986, right about the same time that doctors picked up the term. ”

    source: https://www.waywordradio.org/goombahs/

    As to Super Mario Bros, there may have been some confusion about chestnuts and

    Read alll aboutttt it. Extri! Extri!


  2. Physicians clearly have a lively lexical style.

  3. Trond Engen says

    This is now officially MushroomHat.

  4. David Marjanović says

    🙁 All we have is the thagomizer.

  5. May be related to Russian Децл “detsl,” https://ru.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/децл, youth slang for little/small. E.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detsl.

  6. An interesting comparison!

  7. Ditzel was ubiquitous in the speech of my father and his physician colleagues. I would have never guessed it was so obscure. I don’t use it a lot these days, probably because other people around me now don’t use it either.

  8. PlasticPaddy says

    If there were a noun “point” associated with German deuten, Yiddish dayt (also titshe) “point”, it could be made to work by fudging vowel / umlaut. I seem to remember German Deut meaning smidgeon or worthless coin….

  9. David Marjanović says

    it could be made to work by fudging vowel / umlaut

    No. Unless maybe if we involve Wallisertiitsch.

    I seem to remember German Deut meaning smidgeon or worthless coin….

    Kinda; it’s a 17th-century Dutch loan that never got far.

    (Nowadays extinct except in um keinen Deut besser “not better at all”.)

  10. John Cowan says

    Yes, from Du duit ‘id.’ Another pathway leads through Low German doyt to English doit, all still ‘id.’ Wikt defines the last precisely as ‘1/8 of a st(u)iver’ (Da døjt ‘1/160 of a gulden’) but also gives the vague meaning, and says that the whole complex is probably borrowed from ON þveit ‘cut-off piece’ in addition to the coin-related meanings. In English that gives through various pathways native (now dialectal) thwite, its diminutive thwittle > whittle (the h is a lie), and borrowed thwaite ‘assart’.

  11. thwittle > whittle (the h is a lie)

    In my naivety I can imagine /ˈθwɪtəl/ realised as [‘θʍɪtl̩] , which goes to [‘ʍɪtl̩] with no funny business.

  12. May be related to Russian Децл “detsl”
    or to Yiddish “a bisl” (< ein bisschen)?

  13. dayt…fudging vowel / umlaut

    seems unlikely to me. sound-wise: the -l is easy (though i wouldn’t bet on it over -ele), but the -ts- would be surprising, and dialectically, the vowel only goes farther back: it’s something like /dɑ:t/ for us southerners. but more importantly, to me it doesn’t make much semantic sense: “daytn” (according to refoyl a deprecated variant of “taytlen”) is “point out”, but more in the sense of “provide evidence” than “indicate an object in space” – and i don’t see any sign of a noun form that isn’t from a prefixed form of the verb. worse yet, “taytl” does indeed have a noun form, but it means “pointer”, not something pointed at.

    i don’t have the slavic to judge the russian contender, but i don’t think this hintele vel yogn/

  14. I’m wondering about the origin of децл.

    M.A. Грачев (2003) Словарь тысячелетнего русского арго and В.С. Елистратов (2000) Словарь русского арго: Материалы 1980–1990 гг both say that децел, децал (also децил ?) ‘a little, a bit’, etc., is possibly from деци- as in дециметр. Where is the -(е)л from? Is this a slang diminutive suffix? Or from децилитр? A децилитр would be the amount in a standard Soviet 200 ml faceted glass filled halfway up with vodka — so a little bit? But in a widely-copied online Словарь сленга наркоманов, there are also these entries:

    КУБ — 1 мг раствора.
    ДЕЦИЛ — 0,1 мг раствора.

  15. What’s раствор in this context? Seems like something strong.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    I would think that Russians, referring to vodka, would say “10 grams” and not “10 ml”. Perhaps 50 grams would already be a ditzel, but research on this matter (by ordering this amount in a bar or restaurant) could be hazardous, and I would recommend ordering at least 100 grams and asking patrons or staff when the unconsumed portion could be considered to be a ditzel. If you accidentally drink the whole glass in one swallow, you can order another one.

  17. What’s раствор in this context?

    I assumed heroin, крокодил (impure street desomorphine), etc. Was a децил then originally one of the lines marking divisions of .1 ml (that is, .1 g in the usual Russian way of thinking) on the barrel of the sizes of syringe typically used by intravenous drug users?

    While we are on this topic, does куб then make reference to the habit of sucking tea through a sugarcube?

  18. I mean, in addition to “cubic centimeter” (1 ml) of solution, heroin sometimes being cut with sugar on the street.

  19. January First-of-May says

    It’s strange that it would say 1 mg (an absolutely tiny dose, hard to measure well) and not 1 ml. But maybe we’re talking about something with utterly microscopic useful doses. Or maybe the source was misread.

    Assuming density close to water, 1 mg of solution would be 1 cubic millimeter – a cube indeed but a really tiny one, never mind 1/10 of it. Maybe they’re talking about 1 mg of some kind of narcotic in a larger amount of solvent? But then why cube?

  20. In Israel, /kub/ is a common term for a cubic meter of liquid measure (e.g. in water bills). Is that a Russianism?

  21. January First-of-May says

    Is that a Russianism?

    It’s certainly a common Russian term for a cubic meter in the context of water bills, at least. It would not surprise me at all if in Israel it’s a borrowing from there; Israel has a lot of former Russians.

  22. So maybe a “куб” of раствор means ‘a bunch’, as opposed to a single minimal dose. The weight might refer to that of the drug, dissolved in a larger volume of water.

    There are not a lot of things active at 0.1 mg. Could it be LSD?

Speak Your Mind