The World of Tussie-Mussie

In the course of writing some copy about pleasantly scented household cleaning supplies — really — I wanted to check the exact meaning of nosegay. I remember reading the word in an American Heritage kids’ book that had a picture spread called “A Nosegay of Valentines.” When I was 8 or so — the same era when I thought misled was pronounced “mize-elled” — I got the sense that a nosegay was a collection of anything fancy. Decades later, when I had occasion to hunt for it in the dictionary, I got the more precise sense that it’s a bunch of flowers.

So back to the cleaning supplies. They smell good. They’re a bunch of things. Would nosegay work (the client I’m writing for sometimes seems to like obscure words)? Looking it up at the American Heritage Dictionary site brought back a short list of words: nosegay, naturally; bouquetier, a container for holding a nosegay; and … tussie-mussie:

SYLLABICATION: tus·sie-mus·sie

NOUN: 1. A small bouquet of flowers; a nosegay. 2. A cone-shaped holder for such a bouquet.

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English tussemose, perhaps reduplication of *tusse.

I don’t know from tussie-mussie. I can swear, almost, that I haven’t stumbled across it in my 19,000-plus days as me. I figured this must be like one of those obscure Scrabble words, like qanat or zobo, that we Standard American English people never use except when we’re looking for a killer play for a Q or a Z.

But no: the world of tussie-mussie is alive and well. There’s a book: “Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers.” The Royal Horticultural Society posted an explainer (no longer online in 2022) on the art and meaning of the tussie-mussie, complete with a sort of guide to different messages you can send through flowers (here’s a special George W. Bush tussie-mussie: tansy, columbine, rocket, and bugloss).


One Reply to “The World of Tussie-Mussie”

  1. I thought that about misled too! I thought it was a verb that meant to trick someone: to misle, misling, misled, etc. I was so disappointed to find out there was no such word, at much later than 8 years old, btw. I’m glad to know there is someone else who shares this loss.

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