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Example with a context:

Here's a possibility. Desires, at the very least, seem to be, at least in typical cases, very closely tied to a series of emotions. You get excited when you're playing chess at the prospect of capturing my queen and crushing me. You get worried when your pieces are threatened. Of course, more generally, you get excited, your heart goes pitter-pat, when your girlfriend or boyfriend says they love you. Your stomach sinks, you have that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you get a bad grade on a test.

What does this word mean? Sorry but I couldn't find any definitions online, so I'm asking here.

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  • I think it's similar to the feeling of getting butterflies, and it can happen when you're amused, in love, or nervous about something. (P.S. Where did this "context" come from? I'm under the impression that "pitter-pat" is a bit of a dated term; I'd be surprised if this was from something contemporary.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 19:15

3 Answers 3

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It's an expression for a speeded-up heartbeat. pitter-Pat-pitter-Pat-pitter-Pat. Syncopated, but faster than a regular-speed heartbeart, which is sometimes sounded out as: lub-Dub,lub-Dub,lub-Dub. It's English's attempt to simulate what one might hear through a stethoscope. Your heart has a strong stroke and a weaker stroke. (This creates the "systolic" and "diastolic" pressure in a blood pressure reading. Of course, if you get to listen to audio of a sonogram of your heartbeat, it sounds more like ka-Whoosh-ka-Whoosh-ka-Whoosh, but I don't think that has become an idiom. "pitter-pat" is the traditional way to say it in songs and other romantic situations. As others mentioned, "pitter-patter" is used quite differently.

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It is an example of onomatopoeia: the word sounds like what it represents, that is, like heartbeats.

There is a related word: pitter-patter, it describes the sound of rain, and is also onomatopoeic.

Per FumbleFingers' comments, "pitter-pat" is more syncopated compared with "pitter-patter" and hence must reflect the rhythm of the heart better than "pitter-patter".

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    It's not quite "invented for the occasion". Google Books thinks there are about 3,840 instances of pitter-pat, compared to about 23,900 for pitter-patter (i.e. - the "generic" ratio is over 6:1). But the specific context "heart went pitter-pat" has 303 instances, against 553 for "heart went pitter-patter" (ratio less than 2:1). The short form favours heartbeats more. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:42
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    ...(the longer form is almost always used in "the pitter-patter of tiny feet"). Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:45
  • Thank you for the comment, @FumbleFingers! Yes, if it's widely used it must be a non-nonce word. Interesting point about increased applicability of "pitter-pat" to heart. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:45
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    I can't recall the spondee/trochee/whatever details, but I think maybe pitter-patter is too "regular" for most of us when we're trying to describe a (potentially irregular) heartbeat. Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 18:48
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    Felix the cat / The wonderful, wonderful cat / You'll laugh so hard your sides will ache, your heart will go pitter-pat / Watching Felix, the wonderful cat
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 19, 2015 at 19:12
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An exact parallel to Zeus and Jupiter is found in the Sanskrit god addressed as Dyauṣ pitar: pitar is "father," and dyauṣ means "sky."

Sanskrit Latin Greek pitar pater pater

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