Source: C For Dummies, 2nd Edition


In addition to grammar, languages require rules, exceptions, jots and tittles, and all sorts of fun and havoc. Programming languages are similar to spoken language in that they have various parts and lots of rules.

Looking up jot gives "not a jot or tittle = not a bit" and "the least part of something".
Looking up tittle gives "superscript dot" and "The word tittle is rarely used." citing the Christian Bible.

I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean in the passage.
What's the actual meaning?

  • Did you look up the words "jot" and "tittle"?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 13:29
  • @ColleenV It may not be clear to a student of English from the definitions alone what the phrase means in the context of a technical programming tutorial.
    – Greg Bacon
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 19:39
  • @GregBacon That may be true, but then the question would be about the confusing definitions. I looked at the definitions before I asked and didn't see anything obviously confusing, so I asked. We can reopen if the dictionary doesn't help.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 19:52
  • 1
    This question probably would not have been closed at all if it said, "I looked up jot and tittle in the dictionary, and I found [insert what was found here], but that didn't help me."
    – J.R.
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 1:38

5 Answers 5


The use of the meaning of jots and tittles is kind of the same as in the dictionary, but different. As @TRomano has pointed out it can mean markings for typesetting, however C is notorious for using what the author in your excerpt is terming small symbols that have very significant meanings.

The same would be true for punctuation in writing. Commas (','), periods ('.'), question marks ('?'), exclamation points ('!') all convey different meanings. Consider the differences between


The so called "jots and tittles" referred to by the author of your passage can be thought of as (a kind of) punctuation for the C language.

For example

. (period character)

is used to reference part of a data structure


a = something_struct.name;

however, if one only has a pointer to the structure and not the actual structure one would use

a = pointer_to_something_struct -> name; (spaces added for clarity)

To define a block

{ ... } (curly brackets/braces)

if (my_condition){
do something;
} else {
otherwise do something else;

other languages like Python implicitly use indentation instead.

For conditional compilation ( C is a compiled language )

# (hash character)


Each "line" of code ends with

; (semicolon)

One of the intentions of the curtness of the syntax was to avoid keystrokes and it's low-levelness was a result of basically being a step up from assembly language (as low as you can go). It also borrows concepts from Unix.

Most of the more "modern" languages are built on C (probably since C was there first): Python and Ruby are examples of this.

C is a great language, however, it is very low level and if you want an abstraction, you have to make it yourself(!) It is therefore very pedantic, which might not be to everyone's taste.

With all due respect for the series of books, C is not for dummies, and the reference to jots and tittles is as appropriate or inappropriate as if it was used to refer to punctuation in grammar.

  • This answer reads more like a programming question answer than an English language answer. This isn't going to be much help to a non-programmer trying understand "jots and tittles" in a different context.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 3:56
  • They are just examples of what a nonprogrammer might consider the "jots and tittles" to be in C, which was the OP's original question. Searching on "jot and tittle" one gets "small markings" which I think without examples in the question's context, isn't really helpful. To a nonprogrammer this might look like a technical answer, but to a programmer it would not be considered a technical answer, nor would it be considered a technical question.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 4:44
  • You've introduced another language (C) into your answer that your readers may or may not be able to read. The phrase has a meaning beyond the particular instance that the OP found it in and I think a better answer would explain it so that it could be understand in whatever context you come across it in. I wouldn't describe any of the punctuation you've listed as "jots and tittles" in C - they're all fundamental parts of the syntax, not diacritical marks.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 12:32
  • Also, what are your sources for your assertions that modern programming languages are built on C? C++ is a way more obvious example than Python or Ruby. Python is a successor to ABC influenced by Modula and Ruby was influenced by Perl/Lisp/Ada more than C. FORTRAN and B came way before C, so it wasn't exactly "there first". It seems like you're just piecing together results of an Internet search and don't really understand what you're talking about. Regardless, what does any of that have to do with English?
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 14:54
  • I agree, and that was my point "notorious for using these small symbols that have very significant meanings", the reference is to smallness and significance. The small "jots and tittles" in orthography also have meanings. The devil is in the details. I've edited my answer to include the analogy of punctuation.
    – Peter
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 14:57

These are terms from orthography referring to the letter -i- and any small meaningful pen mark above a character or elsewhere on the line, respectively. Figuratively they refer to minutiae or trivia.


As TRomano has already stated, the terms are related to small diacritical marks and together it means minor details.

The phrase 'jot and tittles'/'jot or tittle' was introduced into English through a particular translation of the Bible in Matthew 5:18

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..

  • The verse from Matthew was translated in the Wycliffite Bible in 1384: Oon i, that is leste lettre, or titil shal nat passe fro the lawe til alle thingis be don. The KJ version was "catchier". :) quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/…
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 9:49
  • And here's the Old English: soþ ic sæcge eow oþþæt geleoreþ heofun & eorþe an i eþþa an hol stæfes ne gelioreþ from ae ærþon all þus geweorþe
    – TimR
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 9:55
  • @TRomano Thanks for that - the reference I found said it was Tindale in 1526 One iott or one tytle of the lawe shall not scape. It's interesting to see the full evolution.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Apr 7, 2016 at 21:20

Referring to printed lower-case "i" and "j", the jot is the body of the letter and the tittle is the dot above. 

These are details, but more specifically they are details that require special consideration.  Jots and tittles are the things used to cross t's and dot i's.  In the bad old days of writing in a cursive hand, jots and tittles required making a second pass over the written word -- details that are essential but easily omitted in haste. 

On the one hand, the words "jot" and "iota" have both come to mean "the smallest discernible part" because they are the smallest letter bodies in their respective alphabets.  On the other, "jots and tittles" refer to the details that make something complete.  As a mention of the strokes and dots so employed, it is a reference to the necessity of crossing any t's and dotting any i's. 

In addition to grammar, languages require rules, exceptions, tiny bits that require separate attention, and all sorts of fun and havoc. 


In American English, we get "dot the i's [jots] and cross the t's" [tittles].

  • Is this actually used, though? Commented Aug 18, 2021 at 4:27

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