Poetry is filled with usual words. Some are spoonerisms, known as a portmanteau, and others are just so obscure in contemporary English that it seems like they could be made up. The word “tuffet” is one of these. Despite its strange sound and mysterious meaning, it is a real word.
Explore the term 'Tuffet'
A tuffet has a couple of different definitions. It’s usually defined as either a low seat or as a clump of something, like grass or another kind of foliage.
Today, the word is uncommonly used and is hard to define in a contemporary context.
The Obscure Origins of Tuffet
The word “tuffet” comes from the Anglo-French “tuffete” and was first used around 1550. Contextually, the word is most commonly used in the nursery rhyme “Little Miss Muffet.” But, as is common in nursery rhymes, the setting and meaning of the word is obscured by imagery and nonsense, or nonce, verse.
Tuffet in Little Miss Muffet
Without a doubt, the nursery rhyme ‘Little Miss Muffet’ is the best-known example of the word appearing in poetry or song. It’s an upbeat, unusual rhyme that, as noted above, uses nonsense language. It has uncertain origins but was first recorded in 1805. There are several different versions that use different pronouns.
Take a look at these lines from ‘Little Miss Muffet’ to see how the word “tuffet” appears in the text:
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
There came a big spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
It’s clear from these lines, once you’re aware of the definitions, that the speaker is describing “Little Miss Muffet” as sitting on something, either a low seat or a grassy hill. More likely than not, it was the latter. Scholars have suggested that the secondary definition, in reference to a footstool, might come from a misunderstanding of this rhyme.
The son has been used in a variety of contexts, including in the 1993 Alex Cross novel called Along Came a Spider.
The meaning of the word “tuffet” in ‘Little Miss Muffet’ is not entirely clear. Some believe it’s used to describe a grassy hill, a footstool, or another kind of low seat.
Another word for tuffet, in contemporary English, is “clump.” Some other options are “cluster,” “thicket,” “bundle,” and “tuft.”
In ‘Little Miss Muffet,’ Miss Muffet was actually eating a type of cheese (usually assumed to be a type of cottage cheese) from the 16th century.
A tuffet has a few different definitions. It’s usually defined as either a low seat or as a clump of something, like grass or another kind of foliage.
Related Literary Terms
- Spoonerism: occurs when a writer changes the first letters of a word. This might create a new word or something nonsensical.
- Malapropism: occurs when a writer, character, or other source uses a word incorrectly, usually rendering the sentence nonsensical.
- Nursery Rhyme: a short rhyming song or poem that conveys a lesson or tells an amusing story. They are aimed at children.
- Folk Song: a piece of music that was composed within the parameters of folk music. These songs are usually about a particular group of people, an event, or an experience.
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