When the Hermit was a young gel …

and away at school, I was more or less adopted by the wife of the local vet, Mrs Tessa Chestnut. We would have the most wonderful teas round her kitchen table after walking the dogs, Daisy (a Rhodesian Ridgeback cross) and Nelson, a Jack Russell.

One day she took us on an outing to Burghley Horse Trials and to say thank you we bought her a tussy-mussy from one of the stalls.

She made school bearable.

The Latin name for Coltsfoot tussilago farfara suddenly brought the tussy mussy to mind. Cribbed this from the internet:

From The Word Detective:

Dear Word Detective: What is the origin of the term “tussy mussy”? I know that it’s a small bouquet arranged in a tasteful, slim silver vase, that it is often carried by or pinned to the bodice of a bridesmaid at a wedding, and that it is a tradition that hearkens back to Victorian times. But where specifically could such a cutesy-wootsey term as “tussy mussy” have come from? — Laurel Whisler.

For a little bunch of flowers, “tussy-mussy” carries more than its share of mystery. The term apparently first appeared in the 15th century, but its derivation is unknown. There was an earlier form in Middle English, “tusmose” or “tussemose,” as well as some use of simply “tussy” around the same period, and some indication of an earlier word like “tus” or “tusse” meaning “a cluster of flowers,” but the clues are thin and most dictionaries simply classify “tussy-mussy” (or the earlier form “tuzzy-muzzy”) as another case of “origin unknown.” The “mussy” part, by the way, is simply a case of “reduplication,” the humorous alliteration found in terms such as “cutesy-wootsey.”

It’s somewhat surprising that “tussy-mussy” is around at all today. The term faded from use in the early 18th century, and was only revived in the 20th (the Oxford English Dictionary contains no citations between 1706 and 1958). The Victorians may have indeed been brandishing “tussy-mussies” on festive occasions, but it seems that they must have been calling them something else.

One possible clue to the history of “tussy-mussy” may be the word “tussock,” originally meaning “a tuft of hair” and now “a clump or hillock of grass or the like,” which seems to bear a resemblance in both form and meaning to “tus” or “tusse.” This “tussock” is related to the English dialectical term “tusk,” meaning a tuft of hair or grass, which in turn may (but also may not) be related to our more familiar “tusk” meaning “long tooth.”

and pre-Bazalgette and Thomas Crapper (also cribbed from internet – tut, tut):

“During the English Georgian period (1714–1760), pestilence was rampant and indoor plumbing was not. Elegant ladies would often carry small bouquets of fragrant herbs and flowers to fend off noxious odors. Also known as nosegays, tussy mussies remained popular through the Victorian era.”

p.s.  Feel I ought to have a caption competition for that little vignette.  Wonder what he is saying to her?  Don’t think the Language of Flowers covers it somehow.


3 thoughts on “When the Hermit was a young gel …

  1. Dear Hermit, delighted to find you’ve just posted when all else is quiet in the blogosphere. And so cheeky too!
    We must come and see you (crossfields) as promised?…x

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