Almost everyone is familiar with the children’s verse, first printed in 1805, about Little Miss Muffet who sat on a Tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Then there’s the spider that sat down beside her.
Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet. So what’s a tuffet? And why would she be sitting on one eating her curds and whey?
The standard definition is that a tuffet is something to sit on, something like a stool, except all covered with cloth. In other words, a tuffet is a footstool or low seat. But it is more complicated than that. In 1805, a tuffet could also be a grassy knoll or a grassy mound.
The girl could have eaten her curds and whey on either a stool or outside. The spider that sat down beside her might more logically be expected outdoors. A city kid in a house sitting on a tuffet might just have swatted the spider, getting rid of both spider and rhyme, and kept on eating.
There is serious scholarly debate over just what the tuffet Miss Muffet sat on, perhaps proving that academics actually have a sense of humor. No arachnologist (a person who studies arachnids, that is, spiders) has yet weighed in on what the species of spider might have been.
While we’re at it, what are curds and whey? It’s the same as the lumps and liquids in cottage cheese. The classic rhyme is better than writing Little Miss Muffet sat on a footstool eating cottage cheese.
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In childhood we follow the rhymes verbatim….
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