She sat on a WHAT?

Little Miss Muffet, that is.

I’ve seen drawings (presumably because there aren’t any photos) depicting her sitting on a small stool.

I’ve seen other drawings where she sits on a clump of grass or some other mound, which I thought was what “tuffet” meant.

Which was the original intent in this rhyme?

From Webster’s on-line (

and… a tuft is:

So… its either a small seat or a growing bunch of grasses; so both pictures are correct!

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

Well, now that that’s settled, will someone explain sugar plums to me? The kind that “dance in your head?”

My grocery store got some in a month or two ago and I eagerly bought some, even though the grocer warned me they were not guaranteed to dance in your head. They turn out to be very small, oval plums, tasting a bit tart, and they are 90% pit.

Is THIS what Victorian children had dancing in their heads, or was there some sort of candy called “sugar plums?”

Yes, Flora, that’s a sugar plum. Keep in mind that candy in the 19th century consisted mostly of sugared fruits and rock-candy like substances. Chocolate, at least in its mass-produced form, wasn’t available until the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century. Ditto for gum.

I think the term also applies to small candies in general. My dictionary lists “a small candy in a ball or disk” as the first definition with “sweetmeat” as a synonym. “Sweetmeat”, in turn, is defined as “candied fruit” as well as “candy, confection”.

The second definition for “sugarplum” is “serviceberry” (which my mother pronounces “SAR-vis-berry”) which sounds like the fruit you described, Flora.

So I think this is an example of a specific item (the candied sugar plum) becoming a generic name for any small round candy. My mother likes candied fruit, which I assume she enjoyed as a child, but the ones she made for us (which went uneaten) were not plums but orange and other citrus fruit rinds (ugh!). She never called them sugar plums, though. I’ll have to ask her if she ever had a true sugar plum.

“The inability of science to grasp Quality, as an object of enquiry, makes it impossible for science to provide a scale of values.”
Robert Pirsig

I called Mom and she has never eaten a sugarplum (she’s 75 y.o.) but her definition matched pretty close to what we have here.

I asked her about serviceberries and she’s pretty sure the fruit they called serviceberry in southern Idaho would not be suitable for a childrens treat. It had lots of seeds (not a large pit, like the one Flora described) and it didn’t taste all that great. They used it for jams and pies, though, so once you add enough sugar it seems to taste okay. But she was real suspicious about sugarplums being the same as serviceberries.

“The inability of science to grasp Quality, as an object of enquiry, makes it impossible for science to provide a scale of values.”
Robert Pirsig

Just to be clear about this Flora, there were no sugar plums dancing in anyone’s heads. It was, “visions of sugar plums”. The visions were dancing. If actual sugar plums danced in their heads they would have caused severe brain damage.

Glad I could help…


According to William S. and Ceil Baring-Gould in The Annotated Mother Goose, there is no such word as “tuffet.” They comment: Many illustrators show Miss Muffet seated on a three-legged stoll, but as many others prefer to picture her perched on a grassy hillock.

The rhyme was first published in 1804. Two interpretations:

  • Miss Muffet is Mary Queen of Scots, and the spider is John Knox, who denounced her from the pulpit.

  • There was a Patience Muffet (or Moffett or Moufet) in the late 1500s and early 1600s, whose father, Dr Thomas Muffet, was an entomologist (Doug? Doug? You there?) who vastly admired spiders and wrote – in verse – a volume called The Silkewormes and their flies

The editors of the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes noted, in 1951, that “Miss Muffet” occurs the most often of all nursery rhymes in children’s books… probably because of the ease of illustrating.

I have a problem with these threads that shift needles in midstream. In order to integrate this one:

What happens if you cross a sugar plum with a tuffet? Don’t tell me(,) stuff-it.

But to be plumb off-topic, I’d like to know why the Santa Rosa plums I often ate as a kid in the '30s and '40s, and liked very much, have been almost nonexistant for at least the last 3 decades. I don’t like any other plums much. (Hold the added sugar.)


Someone needs to tell Webster’s then… they date it to 1553.