Printable Version
Pronunciation: t-fit Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. A tuft. 2. A mound, hillock, or bump. 3. A hassock, ottoman, low footstool.

Notes: We are all familiar with the Mother Goose rhyme,

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider, sat down beside her,
and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Before leaving, however, Miss Muffet made a permanent mark on the English language. Before this poem emerged some time in the 19th century, many readers presumed it to be a low seat of some kind, so it soon took on this sense as its third meaning.

In Play: The original sense of the word, for reasons laid out in the Word History, is simply "a tuft": "The rhododendrons in Perry Winkle's garden are covered with tuffets of blooms in the spring." However, as mentioned above, this word has a new meaning now: "Lucinda always knelt at the altar on the same satin tuffet her mother had used for the same purpose."

Word History: Today's Good Word cannot stay out of trouble. Not only is its meaning slipping from its control, it has also lost a vowel, becoming tuft. This is why the latter is now more common than tuffet. The final T was apparently an English addition to French touffe "clump, cluster". The French word is from Latin tufa "helmet crest", which may have been borrowed from the Germanic word that led to English top. However, at this point we move into an area of squishy speculation that is best avoided.

Dr. Goodword,

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