Tuffet

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Definition: A low seat. A stool. A little tuft.

Pronunciation: tuff-it

Origin: Tuffet entered the English language in the 1550s – originally from the French ‘touffel’.

Why this word?

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider

And sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away

According to Albert Jack’s engaging book ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ – a history of nursery rhymes, this rhyme is most likely about 16th century physician Dr. Thomas Muffet, famed for his studies of insects and their relationship to medicine. The rhyme was first recorded in 1805 and, although the word tuffet has since become obsolete, it has – somehow – survived complete obscurity inside this little rhyme.

What particularly fascinates me about the word tuffet is that the rhyme in which it appears is learned by almost every English speaking child in the Western world. Thus, it is one of the first words to enter our vocabularies – yet – still – it is never used beyond this. Indeed, this is not the only time we teach obscure words to children. Think of jack and Jill and their ‘Pail’ of water – or indeed the obscure counting method of ‘four and twenty’ blackbirds baked inside a pie.

It seems a strange way to teach language – to start with the obscure words first!

How to use this word:

One could simply begin to refer to small footstools as tuffets – but I just can’t see it catching on. You could look at its other meaning – a ‘small tuft’ or a small hill that one would sit upon – and maybe you could try convincing conspiracy theorists to begin referring to the ‘grassy knoll’ as the ‘tuffet’. But I think that would simply rob the JFK conspiracy theories of some of their panache.

I think it’s time to assign tuffet to the dustbin of history. And while we’re at it – ‘curds and whey’ need an updating too. Parents – here are the new words – the rest is up to you:

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a footstool

Eating her cottage cheese

Along came a spider

Who crawled up beside her

And – so frightened – she ran for the trees.

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About Author

Seán Carabini is a Dublin-based author. To date, Seán has written the humorous travel memoirs 'Sticking Out in Minnesota' and 'American Road', as well as 'American Road: The poems' - a book of travel poetry related to the memoir. Seán has also developed a podcast based on the book - subscribe to the American Road podcast today! Seán is a committee member of the Irish Writers' Union. Chrissy Skelton is Seán Carabini's editor. A graduate of the University of Minnesota's Anthropology programme, Chrissy emerged armed with an arsenal of little-known words and cumbersome jargon - all of which will now be off-loaded onto 'unusedwords' readers!

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Melichrous

Definition: The color of honey yellow. Pronunciation: “mel-LEE-krooss”, or “mel-LEE-kruss”

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