Definition of teetotum in English:



  • A small spinning top spun with the fingers, especially one with four sides lettered to determine whether the spinner has won or lost.

    • ‘Another guest describes a patient who thought he was a spinning top, or teetotum, and liked to spin around, at which the guest prepares to demonstrate before being interrupted by another table guest who whispers into his ear.’
    • ‘A teetotum is essentially a stick with flat sides and a round stick through the middle.’
    • ‘Each player places a coin in the pot and then take turns spinning the teetotum following the instructions when the teetotum stops spinning.’
    • ‘Dominoes, playing cards, counters and teetotums were all used to play games in the 19th century but with adults more so than with children.’
    • ‘However, variations of the game were invented when teetotums developed a body in the shape of a cube.’
    • ‘A six-sided teetotum or die and a playing piece of a different color for each player, are also needed.’
    • ‘To reinforce this, the games were played with teetotums, rather than dice which were associated with gambling.’
    • ‘In England and Ireland, the game of totum or teetotum, first mentioned in approximately 1500, was especially popular at Christmastime.’
    • ‘The Victorians believed that children should not play with dice because they were associated with gambling so instead they used teetotums, numbered tops, to determine the number of moves.’


Early 18th century (as T totum): from T (representing totum, inscribed on the side of the toy) + Latin totum ‘the whole’ (stake). The letters on the sides (representing Latin words) were T (= totum), A (= auferre ‘take away’), D (= deponere ‘put down’), and N (= nihil ‘nothing’).