April 9th, 2005

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Tuftiness

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?