a. A portion of one's annual income contributed voluntarily or due as a tax, especially a contribution of one tenth of one's income for the support of the clergy or church.
b. The institution or obligation of paying tithes.
2. A tax or assessment of one tenth.
a. A tenth part.
b. A very small part.
v. tithed, tith·ing, tithes
1. To pay (a portion of one's income) as a tithe.
2. To levy a tithe on.
To pay a tithe.
[Middle English, tithe consisting of a tenth part of one's goods or income, from Old English tēotha, tenth, tithe; see dek in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
titha·ble (tīthə-bəl) adj.
Word History: A tithe is a tenth, etymologically speaking; in fact, tithe is the old ordinal numeral in English. Sound changes in the prehistory of English are responsible for its looking so different from the word ten. Tithe goes back to a prehistoric West Germanic form *tehuntha-, formed from the cardinal numeral *tehun, "ten," and the same ordinal suffix that survives in Modern English as -th. The n disappeared before the th in the West Germanic dialect area that gave rise to English, and eventually yielded the Old English form tēothe, "tenth," still not too different from the cardinal numeral tīen. But over time, as the former became tithe and the latter ten, and as tithe developed the specialized meaning "a tenth part paid as a tax," it grew harder to perceive a relationship between the two. The result was that speakers of English created a new word for the ordinal, tenth, built with the cardinal numeral ten on the pattern of the other regularly formed ordinal numerals like sixth or seventh.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.