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The Independent Online

AS THE arguments go on and on about the pros and cons of tipping in restaurants, you can't help noticing after a time that the only people who don't actually use the word are the restaurateurs themselves. They call them gratuities, a word related to grateful, as well as to grace, as in grace and favour residences. Or they use the word service, like the French.

I used to think gratuity was a euphemism for tip until I discovered that I had got it the wrong way round, and that tip was a dysphemism for gratuity. The OED labels tip "rogues' cant" (cant being slang or jargon) and it seems to have begun in the early 17th century as a vaguish verb, etymologically obscure, meaning to hand over, or to pass on, a use still found today at racecourses and City watering-holes. A hundred years later it had settled into its meaning of giving money to a servant, not always in return for work; uncles and godfathers tipped children.

Gratuity is much older than tip, and originally meant a gift made to anyone, including an equal. One can see why some restaurants might prefer it to service, where there's no pretence that this is anything than a commercial transaction. The trouble with gratuity, though, is that it has become indistinguishable from service and tip - it has been dragged down, as it were, to their level. It now sounds dangerously like a genteelism, along with such words as sufficient for enough and adjacent for next.

So we are back where we started, with tip, which in this context will always be associated with something handed to an inferior, and won't quite do these days. It looks as though the only answer is to scrap the system altogether.

Nicholas Bagnall