From my World Wide Words newsletter:
TUFTHUNTER It was surprising to read this word reportedly used by the critic Robert Hughes this week, in a comment relating to Damien Hirst's exhibition in New York. It means a toady or sycophant, and I would have said it disappeared from the active language in about 1900. A tuft was at one time a slang term for a golden ornamental tassel. It was worn on academic caps at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in place of the usual black one as a mark of status by titled undergraduates, who were themselves called tufts. Wearing the tuft went out of fashion in the 1870s.I wondered if that was the origin of 'Tufty' Tarrant. Not that he was a toady, more an upper class twit who may have graduated from the SFA with a golden tassel on his mortarboard. Or does it come from something or someone else?