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In the novel A Day Among The Liars by Edward Page Mitchell, there is this sentence:

"My rod creaked and bent double," a stout, red-faced gentleman was saying, "and the birch spun like a testotum."

Please can anyone explain the meaning of "birch spun like a testotum"?

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closed as too localized by jwpat7, Cameron, FumbleFingers, J.R., tchrist Dec 27 '12 at 9:39

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Try teetotum, I think that's the word you need. It's a spinning top. – spiceyokooko Dec 19 '12 at 13:48
This is Too Localised, searching Google Books for "and the birch spun like a" establishes conclusively that OP's citation is a mistranscription of teetotum. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '12 at 19:06
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The word isn't found by Onelook, but it suggests some others.

Searching Google for the sentence without testotum gives some alternate words.

  • My rod creaked and bent double,” a stout, red-faced gentleman was saying, “and the birch spun like a tee-totum.

  • "My rod creaked and bent double," a stout, red-faced gentleman was saying, "and the birch spun like a teetotum.

A teetotum is:

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

Images from Wikipedia:

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

It may be worth noting that teetotum isn't a well known word; at least I hadn't heard it before.

Project Gutenberg texts are scanned from books. Sometimes there can be mistakes with the OCR (optical character recognition), the computer program that guesses the letters, especially in older books with less clear type. Humans volunteers proof-read the text before release, but some mistakes can slip through, such as this one.

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Do you mean... a teetotum is dreidel? – Mitch Dec 19 '12 at 14:06
@Mitch: Yes, or something similar. Other definitions include: a spinning top bearing letters of the alphabet on its four sides and such a top used as a die in gambling games (Collins). – Hugo Dec 19 '12 at 14:11

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