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How common is the use of the word "tee" for T-shirt in the UK or the US?

I'm asking it because I saw it firstly on the site of a chain of clothing in the UK (see attached picture)

I found on Oxford dictionary that it is in informal use (see definition No. 3). But still it's interesting to know how common it is in use. I'm afraid also to say to someone that I bought for him "tee" and he will think that I'm talking about tea...

enter image description here

  • 2
    Google Books claims 107 written instances of wearing a tee and, and 1170 for the same text string with tee-shirt. That's as against 12,800 with t-shirt, and 14,600 with tshirt, which I would think should be enough to answer your question. My advice: at least avoid the single-syllable version. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Feb 6 '17 at 19:10
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    Labelling something as “T” (or “tee” because it ought to be a word I guess) when the thing being labelled is a pile of shirts is a rather special case of extreme context going beyond any normal use patterns, I think. – JDługosz Feb 7 '17 at 7:03
  • According to this etymology, the "T" in t-shirt refers to the shape, which is similar to letter "T". The letter "T" is often used informally in a similar way, so that's probably the origin of the usage for a t-shirt. – jpaugh Feb 7 '17 at 17:23
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    In the U.S., it is roughly as common as conversations about the song "Hey There, Delilah" – Kevin Feb 7 '17 at 18:09
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    It's pretty common (in the US) to see it at stores, often with the "shirt" omitted. See Wal-Mart, Target, etc. Of course, I also found steak on sale at my local grocery last night as "STEACK 25% OFF" so.... – A C Feb 8 '17 at 15:01
30

It's a common abbreviation term in advertising, but you generally wouldn't use it in speech the way you mention. A native speaker would most likely say "I bought you a tee shirt."

21

From a British perspective "Tee" is a very American thing.

Doing a quick search on Google UK for "tee" brings up 100% US-based websites, and searching for "T-Shirt" brings up UK-based fashion shops (online & high street). Browsing a few of those sites from the home page they all have sections for "T-Shirts", but none of them have a section for "Tees". Interestingly though, searching within some of those sites for "tee" does bring up results.

Anecdotally, I have never heard anyone say "Tee" aloud, except when referring to the drink "tea".

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    The drink "tea" or, of course, the letter "tee". – David Richerby Feb 7 '17 at 10:54
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    Or a golf tee ... fore!! – Jocie Feb 7 '17 at 11:16
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    From this American's perspective, "tee" is not a very American thing, no matter what this Brit might think. – Keeta - reinstate Monica Feb 7 '17 at 12:56
  • I've never heard "tee" used to refer to a t-shirt. Have lived in California since 2005. – Dan Dascalescu Feb 7 '17 at 22:49
17

In the US, I hear tee used stand-alone more often from women than men, but maybe that's because I'm more likely to be talking about clothing with women. It's not as common as t-shirt, but it's not at all strange for me to say, for example, "do you know where my purple tee is?" It's usually clear from context what I mean—for example, if I'm digging through the laundry without a shirt on while asking the previous question or if one of my kids asks about the weather and I say "I think you'll be fine in just a tee."

It's hard to get a sense of spoken patterns from a written record, but there are a lot of blog posts (like this one) and tweets (like most of these) that mention things like "jeans and a tee" or "my favorite tee" without using the full tee-shirt, so I don't think I'm alone in sometimes using the shorter form.

Also, in some places tee is countable, so it would be unlikely to be confused for the beverage—for example, I would say "I got you a tee" but "I got you some/a cup of tea". In places where the beverage is also countable, it would be more important to rely on context (especially if the tea is green or the tee is hawt!).

You don't need to use the shorter form, though; it's always safe and acceptable to say t-shirt in full.

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    In Britain, you can definitely use 'a tea' to mean 'a serving/cup of tea' and similarly you could order two teas for you and your friend at a café, but this is a good answer and it doesn't really matter. – Au101 Feb 6 '17 at 23:10
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    In the part of the US where I live, I hear "I got you a tea" - that is not exclusive to Britain. – Darren Ringer Feb 7 '17 at 2:37
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    @Au101 and Darren Ringer, it must have something to do with how common the beverage is. I can sort of imagine tea as a count noun, à la coffee, but it's definitely not a common usage in my neck of the woods. I can update the answer, however, to be more universally accurate. – 1006a Feb 7 '17 at 2:51
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    @JavaLatte I wouldn't trust songs as good references for English. They can take poetic license and do all sorts of infuriating things to the language to make it fit the meter and melody. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Feb 7 '17 at 3:22
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    @QPaysTaxes A prime example of this being those lyrics abbreviating "Beastie Boys" to "Beastie" which I'm guessing also isn't a normal thing to do. – David Richerby Feb 7 '17 at 10:59
3

The use of the word "tee" is somewhat common orally, but it generally isn't written. If you want to avoid confusion you should say "I bought you a T-shirt" or "I bought you a shirt". Either one of those should communicate what you mean to say without fear of confusing the item of clothing with the popular drink.

  • "Somewhat common orally" where? It seems very rare in British English. If you're going to say what is and isn't common in the language, you need to say what version of it you're talking about. – David Richerby Feb 7 '17 at 10:57
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    If you told me you'd bought me a shirt, then gave me a T-shirt, I'd be very confused. In my British English, shirt on it's own always means a formal shirt. – xorsyst Feb 7 '17 at 11:33
  • Southeastern US here: I've only see "tee" as a standalone in advertisements and price signs: "50% off Men's solid tees". I've never heard it spoken this way. – Deolater Feb 8 '17 at 14:26
  • I also need to report the opposite. A stand-alone “tee” is almost never written, and is usually only in commercial, printed material. Spoken, it’s always T-shirt (or tee-shirt, ha ha). Midwest/US. – bubbleking Sep 7 '18 at 0:51
2

I,m old (ish) and British. I have never EVER used the word "tee" to describe a T-shirt. Does that help?

  • So am I, but the word is being used increasingly often in this country. – Chenmunka Feb 7 '17 at 10:37
  • +1 Incidentally I'm young and British and would never ever use the word "tee" to describe a T-shirt. (But I might well be an exception, I don't know.) – Pharap Feb 7 '17 at 14:12
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«I'm afraid also to say to someone that I bought for him "tee" and he will think that I'm talking about tea»

So don’t. You are clearly a more careful and thus clear speaker, since you thought about this at all.

If you establish the context first you can omit the -shirt.

Q: What kind of shirt should I wear?
A: The “T”.

or

I packed 5 shirts for the trip: 3 “T”s, a polo, and a button-down just in case we go someplace nice for dinner.

But as a careful and clear speaker, you would not say something like

I bought Dad a “T” for his birthday.

devoid of any context that you are speaking of shirts. Unless the word “shirt” would be repeated in close proximity (like in the 2nd blockquote), there is no need to drop it from “T-shirt”.

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    if I asked What kind of shirt should I wear? and received the answer The “T” it would probably take me a while to twig what they meant. And then I would assume they were making a joke. – Martin Smith Feb 7 '17 at 8:21
  • All the more reason not to use that form, except to avoid overrepitition of the word “shirt” in a short passage. (Or make it fit in 140 chars, if that’s your thing) – JDługosz Feb 7 '17 at 10:17
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    +1 but note that angle brackets («...») are never used for quotation in English. – David Richerby Feb 7 '17 at 10:56
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    @DavidRicherby I use them specifically for quoting other SE posts, esp. when the quoted material may contain quotation marks, as is exactly the case here. – JDługosz Feb 7 '17 at 10:59
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    @JDługosz That's specifically what blockquote markup is for! In un-marked-up text, alternate between single and double quotes. Mary said, "John said, 'Hello.'" or Mary said, 'John said, "Hello."' – David Richerby Feb 7 '17 at 11:04

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