There are two major definitions for the word “tuffet,” both from the Oxford English Dictionary. The first is: “a tuft or clump of something” and the second is “a footstool or low seat”.
The word 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.
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.