The commonly used expression ‘itsy-bitsy’ is actually of Hungarian origin. Szeretlekmagyarorszag.hu reports that it comes from the Hungarian phrase ‘icipici’.
During its long history, the Hungarian language has borrowed or lent a lot of expressions, phrases, or words. There are many words with Yiddish, Alanic, Turkish, German or Slavic roots. Even though Hungarian people are well aware of the existence of the words borrowed from other languages, not many know that other languages have some words with Hungarian origins as well.
Recently, there was a growing interest in the expression ‘itsy-bitsy’, which is mainly used in American English. It seems that the popular phrase was borrowed from Hungarian. This is not the first time that Hungarian words have popped up in other languages: the English word ‘coach’ (referring to the bus), the German ‘Kutsche’, the Spanish ‘coche’ or the Flemish ‘goetse’ all come from the Hungarian word, ‘kocsi’. Several linguistic data supports the theory that the English ‘itsy-bitsy’ comes from the Hungarian ‘icipici’.
Some explain this by saying that in the 1930’s, there was an emigrant Hungarian cast in Hollywood, from whom the locals borrowed the expression, by using it as a diminutive for the phrase ‘little bit’. There are even others who claim that ‘icipici’ was frequently used by a Hungarian director, and his American colleagues liked it so much, that they started implementing it as well.
Itsy-bitsy became most popular thanks to the song ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ by Brian Hyland, but it also appears in a children’s song.