From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A six-sided Chinese teetotum

A teetotum (or T-totum) is a form of gambling spinning top that is known across Europe from Roman times. It has a polygonal body - originally four-sided - marked with letters or numbers, which indicate the result of each spin. The name originates from Latin Totum meaning 'all' which was marked by a T on one of the four sides and indicated that the winning player could take all the played tokens.

'TeeToTum' (Tee To Tum) was the name of a sports ground in Stamford Hill, London in the 19th century. The Hackney TeeToTum cricket team played there, and it also hosted athletics events such as the professional '25 Mile World Championships'.


A girl holding up a four-sided teetotum on Pieter Brueghel's Children's Games (1560)

In its earliest form the body was square (in some cases via a stick through a regular six-sided die [1]), 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.

Other 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, ZS, TA, TG, NH, ND, SL and M, which included the Latin terms Zona Salve ("save all"), Tibi Adfer ("take all"), Nihil Habeas ("nothing left"), Solve L ("save 50") and Nihil Dabis ("nothing happens"),

Joseph Strutt, who was born in 1749, mentions the teetotum as used in games when he was a boy.[2] The toy is mentioned in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, when the Sheep asks "Are you a child or a Teetotum?"

The teetotum survives today as dreidel, a Jewish game played on Hanukkah and as the Perinola, a game played in many Latin American countries. Some modern teetotums have six or eight sides, and are used in commercial board games in place of dice. The original 1860 version of The Game of Life used a teetotum in order to avoid the die's association with gambling.

A twelve-sided teetotum

Teetotum in literature[edit]

The 19th-century English poet William Ernest Henley wrote the Double Ballade on the Nothingness of Things which opened with the lines :

The big teetotum twirls,
And epochs wax and wane
As chance subsides or swirls;
But of the loss and gain
The sum is always plain.
Read on the mighty pall,
The weed of funeral
That covers praise and blame,
The -isms and the -anities,
Magnificence and shame:--
"O Vanity of Vanities!"

In Lewis Carroll's fantasy Through the Looking-Glass, Alice's movements about the Old Sheep Shop provoke its proprietor (the White Queen transformed into a sheep) to ask, "Are you a child, or a teetotum?"

TeeToTum in London sport[edit]

'Hackney TeeToTum' were an amateur cricket team that played at Stamford Hill in the late 19th century. Their 'TeeToTum ground' was also used as an amenity for sporting and social events. On 23 September 1901 Len Hurst won the professional '25 Mile World Championships' and two years later, on 27 August 1903 Hurst set the professional world record of 2:32:42, for 25 mi (40 km).[3][4]