A [Financial Times] column used the phrase "tot up" which the context implied was a shortened form for what I would write as "sum up," in other words, to find the total amount. My questions are: 1) Is this a common usage? 2) Would a typical Englishman pronounce "tot up" to rhyme with "tote up?" a) If so, why wouldn't it be spelled "tote up"? b) If not, mightn't it sound more like "taht up," in which case it would it risk being confused with "tart up?"I'll take JHM's questions in turn:
1). Yes, tot up is BrE meaning 'to add/sum up'. The OED lists it as colloquial, but the fact that it's used in the Financial Times probably means that it's not seen as being particularly colloquial these days. In AmE one is more likely to see/hear tote up. A fixture on American telethons (orig. and chiefly AmE) and other fund-raisers is the tote board, i.e. a representation of how much money has been pledged/collected so far (represented either just as a total figure or a 'thermometer', etc.). Tote boards are also used at racetracks, to show how much the return on a particular bet is. Of course, you have these things in British fund-raisers/racetracks too, but I haven't heard them called tote boards here (and they're not called tot boards either!). The OED lists the related noun tote 'now dialectal' and as originally Australian, with the noun form being short for totalizator--a proprietary name for a kind of machine that tallies numbers up. (In Australia and New Zealand, apparently, the Totalizator Agency Board is the official non-racetrack place where you can bet on horse races--i.e. the equivalent of American Off-Track Betting.)Tote has another, unrelated meaning that is originally AmE: 'to carry'. Of course, the meaning has spread wider than AmE now, especially through the compound tote bag. The etymology of this tote is something of a mystery. It goes back to the 1600s at least, and is often claimed to be of African origin, but there's evidence of it being used that early in parts of America that didn't have many Africans. So, despite a lot of etymological attention to the word, it's still a mystery.
2-a) Tot up rhymes with hot up, not with tote up. Both verb forms tot up and tote up come from total in some way or another--with the former looking more like it relies on the spelling of the abbreviation of total for its form/pronunciation, and the latter being a clipping of the (pronounced) word total. A similar shortened form is tut to mean tutorial (we used that in South Africa--is it used in British universities that still have tutorials?). It's pronounced to rhyme with hut, rather than like the first syllable ('toot') in the word it stands for, tutorial. So, the spelling of the shortened form has influenced its pronunciation.
b) In (at least southern standard) BrE, tot up and tart up ('to dress in a showy/gaudy manner') have very different vowels. The problem with explaining this to AmE speakers is that AmE generally doesn't have the vowel that's in BrE tot. So, if an American says tot up, it may sound like tart up to a BrE speaker because they're not using the vowel that a BrE speaker would expect to hear. But if a BrE speaker (at least the ones down here in the south) says tot or tart it would be very clear to another BrE speaker which one they're saying. I discussed this vowel back here, where there's a link to recordings of it.