from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A top, usually having four lettered sides, that is used to play various games of chance.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A toy (top) similar to a dreidel.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. A child's toy, somewhat resembling a top, and twirled by the fingers.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. See the extract.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a conical child's plaything tapering to a steel point on which it can be made to spin


From earlier T totum (from the letter tee that appeared on one side of the toy), from totum, teetotum, from Latin tōtum, neuter sing. of tōtus, all.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)


  • A round teetotum revolving on its point represents the sky turning on its axis, the two points of the teetotum are the two poles; the child will be delighted to find one of them, and I show him the tail of the Little bear.


  • I had seen a set of models of the regular polyhedra in my High School trig class, and decided that a “12-sided teetotum” must be the 12-sdied thingy (a regular dodecahedron) I had seen in the set.

    The Braunstein Game « Isegoria

  • Back in 1965, I read the rules to a game published in 1880 that said one could use a “12-sided teetotum” instead of a 6-sided die, for resolving odds of 6: 1, 7: 1 etc up to 11: 1, but did not explain what a teetotum was or how to make one.

    The Braunstein Game « Isegoria

  • The five days needed to reach it after it first appeared on the horizon had been fraught with danger: a dozen rapids, violent eddies that whirled the Explorer around “like a teetotum,” interspersed with innumerable reaches through which the boat had to be towed by a dozen men hauling upon fraying ropes or by a battered skiff with splintered oars.


  • Not that I bear him a grudge, much, for he was a jolly little teetotum, bursting with good intentions, and you may say it wasn't his fault that they paved my road to Hell - which lay at the bottom of a salt-mine, and it's only by the grace of God that I ain't there yet, entombed in everlasting rock.


  • But, all of a sudden, somebody shut off the steam below, and the hole was left empty in an instant: and then down rushed the water into the hole, in such a whirlpool that the bogy spun round and round as fast as a teetotum.

    The Water Babies

  • While heaping these compliments on Mr Flintwinch, he rolled him about with a hand on each of his shoulders, until the staggerings of that gentleman, who under the circumstances was dryer and more twisted than ever, were like those of a teetotum nearly spent.

    Little Dorrit

  • As yet, since I came to full-grown power, I had never met any one whom I could not play teetotum with: but now at last I had found a man whose strength was not to be laughed at.

    Lorna Doone

  • Maurice Mair seemed to spin like a teetotum and pitch upon his face like a ninepin.

    The Complete Father Brown

  • But for some odd reason, it was at that very instant that the priest in sheer perversity spun round like a teetotum, turned his back on the corpse, and looked peeringly in the very opposite direction.

    The Complete Father Brown

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  • The ensuing week went by with a buzz and whirl, circling about Theron Ware's dizzy consciousness like some huge, impalpable teetotum sent spinning under Sister Soulsby's resolute hands.

    - Harold Frederic, The Damnation of Theron Ware, ch. 14

    August 2, 2008

  • From a quick check, no apparent relationship to teetotal, apart from formal similarity. Hopefully we'll never need an adjective meaning 'of or pertaining to a teetotum'.

    January 30, 2008

  • A teetotum is a form of gambling top. It has a polygonal body marked with letters or numbers, which indicate the result of each spin. In its earliest form the body was square (in some cases via a stick through a regular six-sided die), marked on the four sides by the letters A (Lat. aufer, take) indicating that the player takes one from the pool, D (Lat. depone, put down) when a fine has to be paid, N (Lat. nihil, nothing), and T (Lat. totum, all), when the whole pool is to be taken.

    Some accounts give such letters as P, N, D (dimidium, half), and H or T or other combinations of letters.

    Other combinations of letters that could be found were:

    NG, SZ, TA, TG, NH, ND, M.

    Which stood for (In Latin):

    ZS - Zona Salve, save all

    TA - Tibi Adfer, take all

    NH - Nihil Habeas, nothing left

    LS - L (i.e., 50) Solve, save 50

    ND - Nihil Dabis, nothing happens

    Teetotum survives today as dreidel, a Jewish game played on Hanukkah.


    January 30, 2008