“Chat” is casual small talk or gossip. “Chitchat” is the same, for it’s simply a reduplication of chat. It’s something humans obviously love to do because it has so many synonyms. Here are a few: cackle, chin music, chin wag, gab, gossip, jangle, jaw, palaver, patter, rap, schmooze, small talk, chatter, natter, and yatter.
“Chatter” has been in use as both a noun and a verb since the 1200s. For example, in 1710, in one of Samuel Palmer’s Moral essays, he says, “‘Tis the custom of foolish people … in their chit-chat to be always biting people’s reputation behind their back.”
Chitchat was also the name of a computer program, but is no longer being used. Perhaps it used too many bytes for chatting.
But here is another interesting thing about words like chitchat, which is “ablaut reduplication.” Reduplication means that we take one sound and repeat it. For example: “choo choo” or “bye-bye.” The word “ablaut” refers to a change in vowels and therefore, “ablaut reduplication” is when most of the word is the same but the vowel changes. Here are some examples:
— pitter patter
— ding dong
— badda-bing, badda-bang, badda-boom
Try reversing the order of these words and see how strange they sound. We don’t patter pitter down the hall. We don’t have knackknicks on our shelves. Our bells don’t go dong ding.
Terms like this have a ruleset. The word with “i” comes first, followed by the one with “a” and then with “o” in the rear. This happens 100% of the time and is unchangeable. Therefore, it applies to proper nouns, too, so we have tic tacs and King Kong.
We don’t know why we do this. Forsyth, writing for the BBC, said that this is the “subject of endless debate among linguists” with no satisfying explanation to date. But, he points out, maybe the “why” doesn’t matter: “English is largely made up of the rules we don’t know that we know,” and yet, that hasn’t stopped us from chitchatting with one another.
And I just have to say, even if it does sound crazy, that I love “badda-bing, badda-bang, badda-boom.” So much rhythm makes me want to dance.