Definition of teetotum in English:


Pronunciation /tēˈtōdəm/ /tiˈtoʊdəm/


  • 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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Dominoes, playing cards, counters and teetotums were all used to play games in the 19th century but with adults more so than with children.’
    • ‘Each player places a coin in the pot and then take turns spinning the teetotum following the instructions when the teetotum stops spinning.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘A teetotum is essentially a stick with flat sides and a round stick through the middle.’


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’).