TOTO is short for to underneath, beneath, or superimposing. TOTO means to underprompt or prompt. This means doing it right on time. The term TOTO comes from the Japanese term to beneath or underline, which was previously written to mean that something had to be quickly done.
In the book Tin Man, by Louis de Bernieres and Edith Grossman (first published in 1947), a toto appears beneath the title, underneath the character “tin man.” Tin Man is a super- villain who, along with two other minor characters, robs banks. In the book, the toto is given a name, Tom, and a dollar sign is printed on his shirt. He then appears regularly in various locations throughout the book, often wearing a red and white plaid shirt and tie, a fedora hat, and a pair of spectacles.
In later works, the toto became more associated with the villain, Professor Ignacio Larrafito. In the TV show, The X Files, the toto shows up as the evil mentor of FBI agent Dana Scully. In subsequent books, the toto has become associated with the Mandarin merchant in New York City, Fong Li. In the sequel to the Tin Man, the last name is revealed as Feng Shui. This indicates that he moved to the United States following the events in the Tin Man.
Another use of the toto is in the phrase “you’re not hitting anything, you’re hitting the nail of your finger.” This idiom is referring to a type of mental block, where the subject is unaware of whether the statement is true or false, and is blocking the possibility of seeing an answer through observation. In this case, the toto character is poking fun at the blockage of reasoning. A variation of this idiom is “You’ve got mail, you’ve got mail.” In this case, the toto appears to be opening the envelope, but in reality, it’s just hitting the nail of his finger. While the reference to mail is intended to show the inefficiency of people in waiting for important letters, the phrase can apply to almost any situation where waiting is an issue.
A toto that finds himself in a place of confusion is likely to begin repeating phrases such as “what the hell, what did I do wrong?” or “where did that come from?” This idiom was originally created by the Japanese, where it refers to the inability of a person to remember a specific event. In English, the phrase describes an inability to clear one’s head. In a similar vein, the toto character in a novel may ask, “What’s the difference between memory and imagination?” to clear his mind after experiencing a traumatic event.
Because they are so closely related, it’s easy to confuse the toto with other Japanese phrases like “Kan-da!” which means “struggle” and “Zuken!” which means “cross.” To be sure, both toto figures engage our senses and contribute to the richness of storytelling, but Kan-da and Zuken have a much deeper connotation and are meant to express the struggle inherent in life.