teetotum

teetotum

[tee-toh-tuhm]
noun
1.
any small top spun with the fingers.
2.
a kind of die having four sides, each marked with a different initial letter, spun with the fingers in an old game of chance.

Origin:
1710–20; earlier T totum, alteration of totum name of toy (< Latin tōtum, neuter of tōtus all) by prefixing its initial letter, which appeared on one side of the toy

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World English Dictionary
teetotum (tiːˈtəʊtəm)
 
n
1.  a spinning top bearing letters of the alphabet on its four sides
2.  such a top used as a die in gambling games
 
[C18: from T totum, from T initial inscribed on one of the faces + totum the name of the toy, from Latin tōtum the whole]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Encyclopedia Britannica
Encyclopedia

teetotum

form of top having usually 4, 6, 8, or 12 sides marked with distinctive symbols. A teetotum is used for playing games, mostly of the gambling variety, and serves in place of dice. The hexagonal (six-sided) teetotum was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. A common gambling game with a teetotum played since medieval times is put and take, in which the various sides have symbols instructing the players to either put money in the pot or take from the pot. A four-sided form of teetotum is the dreidel, which is marked with the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hey, and shin and is used by Jewish children to play a game during Hanukkah; small coins, nuts, raisins, or pieces of chocolate are used as tokens or chips. The letters form the initials of the message "Nes gadol hayah sham" ("A great miracle happened there"). According to the Talmud, this miracle occurred when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. Despite a very small supply of oil, the lamps are said to have continued burning for eight days until new supplies arrived.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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