totter, n.

Wed Oct 16 05:37:32 UTC 2002

Mark Mandel asks,

  >> What is "totter", a noun referring to a person? It is not in MW 3rd
  >> Intl, OED New Edn., or AHD4.

It is, however, in M-W *Second* Int'l. Two definitions:

(1) "One who tots or adds up, as an account."

(2) "One who reclaims odds and ends from refuse cans, dumps, etc., in order
to sell them."

I expect it's the latter who's referred to in your quote from the Lindsey
Davis novel, "she was as tough as a totter's ferret."

When and where street scavengers were accompanied by ferrets, I don't know.
All I could find were references to their being used by *rural* hunters to
help flush out rabbits.

But perhaps (though I find no source that says so) "ferret" has been used
as a slang term to mean an urchin hired to assist such an urban "hunter"?

--Dodi Schultz

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