About twenty years ago I overheard a girl from the north of England laughingly advise a friend to get ready for a night out by telling her to 'slap some tut on your face'. She clearly meant 'put on some make-up'.
I had already heard an Australian informally use the same, or a similar-sounding word, 'tut', to mean 'toilet'.

I have also seen it defined on a website of British slang as: 'tut Noun. Rubbish, nonsense. E.g."Whatever he told you about me is just a load of tut." or "I think we need to clear up all this tut before your parents arrive."

Are the three meanings of make-up, toilet and rubbish linked by some excremental ur-word, and if so does anyone know the origin?

  • 5
    (not a BrE speaker) Allow for the possibility that even if 'tut' as used by the friend might be a synonym for 'shit' or 'rubbish', it could be used figuratively for 'makeup' That is, makeup is not necessarily a synonym of 'tut', just that 'tut' is a filler word like 'stuff' or 'thing'. 'Slap some tut on your face 'could easily denote 'put something on your face'.
    – Mitch
    Feb 20, 2014 at 13:42
  • 4
    I think the tut=rubbish sense is probably either a variant or a mishearing/mistranscription of tat. Feb 20, 2014 at 13:52
  • 2
    (Get some) slap [ie makeup] on t't face?
    – peterG
    Feb 20, 2014 at 23:53
  • 1
    The Australian may have said toot, rather than tut. Toot is Australian slang for toilet, although I don't think it is very common. collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/toot
    – JessWelch
    Feb 22, 2014 at 6:59
  • 1
    But then to my astonishment I find Mary Portas, quoted in the Guardian, Sat 17th May2014: "when I read some niggly little bit of tut in the paper that 'they've spent £250 learning how to gift wrap'"
    – peterG
    May 21, 2014 at 12:36

4 Answers 4


The origin of the word 'tut' as a noun is, as of yet, unknown. The OED entry for Tut says:

Etymology: There is perhaps more than one word here. Of the origin nothing has been ascertained.

However, the use of the word 'tut' in the 'rubbish' sense may be supported by this definition from the OED:

a. Orig. in the Cornish tin-mines, now also in Derbyshire lead-mining: in the phrase upon tut (also by the tut), and attrib. as tut-bargain, tut-man, tut-work (also as vb.), tut-worker, tut-working, tut-workman: denoting a system of payment by measurement or by the piece, adopted in paying for work which brings no immediate returns, as distinct from tribute n. 3; hence, work of this character; dead-work.

The OED takes less of a cop-out on Tut, v. saying:

Etymology: A natural utterance; the spelling tut sometimes represents the palatal click (also spelt tchick n., tck int.).

Which may also explain the etymology of the slang word - being something that is just replaced for a word that is better left unsaid - a sort of self-censorship of more appropriate or cruder language.

Ultimately my guess would be that it's some combination of the two.

  • I wondered if there was some remote connection to 'toute', which was used in Chaucer for 'buttocks, posterior, rump'. Acc. OED that derives from the root 'tut', 'to stick out or project'. A long time later I know, but in Victorian times those who scoured dust-heaps for recyclable refuse referred to bones as 'tots'; by 1880 any retrievable items you could pick out of rubbish were also called 'tots' (hence 'totting', and 'totter' as in Steptoe and Son. Ignore that ref if you aren't British). Maybe the sense shifted from items found in rubbish to rubbish itself, and a general sense of 'crap'?
    – slam
    Feb 22, 2014 at 18:10
  • Pavja2, your explanation is the best I've come across for this word tut/toot (rhyming with 'put') I've used on a very frequent basis all my life. A few years ago I discovered that the vaste majority of people where I live (in Brighton, home to people from all over UK) do not know the word. I am from Essex and it's very commonly used there , to mean rubbish or, perjoratively, your own or someone else's belongings. "Your car's full of tut". I have deduced that it is a Cockney term as the people I've come across who do know it are from areas to which there's been London migration.(Mary Portas is
    – user181560
    Jun 19, 2016 at 12:38

It would be nice if you could ask her, but 20 years later that seems difficult. To me it could have referred to the meaning "shit" as in "Just put some shit on your face and let's go!" but the speaker was in fact referring to makeup but didn't really care or wasn't interested in the result or any backtalk from the intended recipient :) (Canadian speaker but never heard the word before.)


In the sense given, "rubbish" it seems to come from tat


tat, n.5

Etymology: Origin uncertain: compare Old English tættec a rag, and tatty adj.1


a. A rag; also (in singular), poorly made or tasteless clothes. Hence, a shabby person, a slut.

1839 H. Brandon Dict. Flash or Cant Lang. in W. A. Miles Poverty, Mendicity & Crime 168 The paper makers get the tats and never tip the motts a posh. [Translation] Thieves who pretend to belong to paper mills get the rags and never pay the women a farthing.

which gave rise to

b. Rubbish, junk, worthless goods. Also transferred and figurative.

1951 W. Sansom Face of Innocence iv. 55 He was talking of his business in Georgian and early Victorian objets d'oeil. He called it tat.


Tut derives from the German tot meaning dead. In the UK, a totter is another name for a rag and bone man who collects unwanted items by calling door-to-door.

  • 1
    "tot" seems to be slang for a bone, and the OED says it's possibly the origin of "totter", but the OED doesn't give anything else about its etymology (no link to German). A link to "tut" is possible but there's a lack of evidence (if "tut"/"tutter" was an alternative for tot/totter that would be evidence.)
    – Stuart F
    Aug 21, 2021 at 14:09

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.