Little Miss Muffet

On July 2, 2013 · 1 Comments

A map peculiarity reminded me of an old nursery rhyme, probably one of the most famous of them all, and likely familiar to each of us:

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;

I’ll get to the specific reason soon enough. Let me ramble and meander for a little while though, as I tend to like to do, before arriving at the final destination.

The "Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" would seem like a proper place to search for an explanation, however it’s copyright protected on Google Books and I didn’t feel like traipsing down to a physical library to look it up. An amalgam of different online sources, seemingly all deriving from Oxford anyway, traced a possible explanation to one Dr. Thomas Muffet who allegedly wrote the rhyme about his stepdaughter Patience. That’s one theory, anyway.


Black Widow Spider
Black Widow Spider by Smithsonian, on Flickr,
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Dr. Muffet was an entomologist, an insect scientist, so that could have parlayed into the latter part of the rhyme where the spider frightened the little girl. Yes, I understand that a spider is an arachnid not an insect, and a spider scientist is an arachnologist not an entomologist. I’m grasping at straws, here. Regardless, the passage first appeared in published form in 1805, in "Songs for the Nursery."

There might also be a little intrigue or alternate meanings written into the verse:

Is Little Miss Muffet a symbol of sexual harassment or feminine stereotypes? Is this a simply a verse about a young girl eating a meal and being frightened by a bug? Or could these characters represent real people prominent in 16th century England’s history?

Do any of these explanations have anything to do with geography, and does 12MC really care? No, not really. It was a fun tangent while it lasted and let’s get back to more pertinent business.


Muffet

Muffet, as a surname, "usually originates from the town of Moffat in Annandale, in the former county of Dumfriesshire, Scotland. If so the derivation is from the Gaelic ‘magh’, meaning a field or plain, and ‘fada’, translating as ‘long’, – the long field."



Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

It’s not a particularly common surname although the variant Moffatt (like the town) would probably sound more familiar. Geographically, I found a small handful of Muffets used as street names and that was about it.



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I decided to select Muffett Street, in Scone, New South Wales, Australia. I figured Miss Muffet might enjoy a nice scone once she tired of curds and whey. Scone is the horse capital of Australia, located in NSW’s Upper Hunter Shire of the Hunter Valley. The town is know primarily for the Scone Cup, "the biggest country racing carnival in Australia."


Tuffet

What, exactly is a tuffet? It’s a type of low-slung chair that most people would call a stool if it wasn’t covered with fabric. This is a tuffet:


tuffet and chair
Tuffet and Chair by triesquid, on Flickr,
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

I don’t understand why anyone would publish such an ugly, shaggy example of a tuffet on Flickr, much less share it with a Creative Commons license. Nonetheless someone did and I’m grateful because ultimately tuffet was easier to show than to explain. The word also had an interesting etymology that derived from the Old French touffel, meaning little tuft, and it has become "obsolete except in the nursery rhyme."



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It’s pretty obsolete as a place name, too. The only geographic feature in the United States, Canada the United Kingdom or Australia that I could discover was a single lonely little pond in the Arizona desert: Tuffet Tank. It didn’t look anything like a tuffet. What could have influenced someone to call it a tuffet? I could see elbow or boomerang or even a cheezy mustache, but I’m struggling with tuffet.


Curds and Whey

Curds and Whey are odd consumables derived from milk, or substances seemingly more appropriate for an episode of Bizarre Foods.

Curds are a dairy product obtained by curdling (coagulating) milk with rennet or an edible acidic substance such as lemon juice or vinegar, and then draining off the liquid portion. The increased acidity causes the milk proteins (casein) to tangle into solid masses, or curds. The remaining liquid, which contains only whey proteins, is the whey.

I can say from first-hand experience that curds can be quite tasty. I’ve had cheese curds many times when visiting the wife’s family in Wisconsin. Curds, as served to me, were either plain or breaded and deep-fried as a bar snack. We called them "squeaky cheese" when they were particularly fresh. Some of you will know exactly what I mean. The rest of you will have to take my word for it that curds make a peculiar, unmistakable squeak when chewed fresh.

I don’t know anything about whey. I’ve never tried it.



View Larger Map

Finally, 12MC arrives at the entire point of this article, the spectacular Curdsen Way in Las Vegas, Nevada. I am convinced that this street was named for curds and whey. Look at the other street names nearby — Better Way? Thata Way? and… Supreme Court?… which is how I discovered the neighborhood in the first place. I purposely avoided this specific Supreme Court in the earlier article because I didn’t want anyone to spot Curdsen Way and spoil the surprise. I was laughing too hard.

That was one seriously messed-up real estate developer.

And that was an awful lot of reading to get to a punchline.

On July 2, 2013 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Little Miss Muffet”

  1. Rhodent says:

    I’ve seen plenty of street names that involve atrocious wordplay — just here in Raleigh there’s Memory Lane, Disk Drive, Sunday Drive, and Full Circle — but Curdsen Way just may be the worst I’ve ever seen. I wonder if there’s something worse that actually exists. It’s easy to imagine some names that would be truly awful — Getoutamy Way, Sunnysideotha Street, Maless Court, etc. — but none of those exist that I could find.

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