Chit-chat, chitchat or chit chat refers to light, breezy conversation that usually lasts for a few minutes. The term originates from the word chatter, which could mean talking or talk of a light nature. It is called a reduplicated phrase because chit and chat are both thought to be variants of chatter. Written use of the word exists since the 18th century.
Typically, chitchat is not very purposeful dialogue. Subjects could be as simple as the weather, where someone bought their shoes, or just general talking on non-controversial issues. In the earliest written references to chitchat, though, the word may be used more like gossip. Samuel Palmer, who uses the term in 1710, suggests it means people are “always biting people’s reputation behind their back,” which connotes a more malicious form of chatting. While it can be the case that a few minutes of chatting with someone else may be for the purpose of skewering a third party’s reputation, chitchatting with another person need not sink to the malicious.
Actually, learning to chitchat can be a helpful tool, especially at the beginning of social relationships with others. You’ll note that young children have a hard time with this form of conversation, often interjecting subjects or issues that are either off topic or too serious for a proper chitchat. Adults young and old, though, would do better to learn the polite forms of such chatting since they tend to greatly increase social adeptness. Not every conversation needs to be hard and heavy hitting, especially in social environments like parties, or when you strike up a conversation with a little known acquaintance or a stranger.
A few rules for successful chitchats, especially with new acquaintances, can be observed. Conversations should remain light and of mutual interest to both parties. Discussions on controversial issues (religion, politics) should be avoided. Introducing bold personal details about yourself are better left for other times. In fact, the goal of a chitchat is to briefly, airily talk about nothing much so that both parties to a conversation remain comfortable. Such chatting is more a way of being friendly and asserting your friendliness instead of trying to test people to see if they fit your images of ideal acquaintances.
Some people refer to chitchat less formally, and simply mean it as a few minutes of conversation on any topic. Rather than limiting these communiqués by subject, they limit it by length of conversation. In this context, chitchatting may merely mean very short communications, and it doesn’t necessarily mean physically talking. Emails, messaging services or blogging can also be a form of chatting, and subjects may become deeper, more issued based or more personal depending upon the participants in the conversation.