Spinning tops have been around for centuries. They originated independently from multiple cultures around the world. As a result, they have been called by many names. The other names for spinning tops can be a reflection of their origin, how a certain type of top was initially made or used, or a distinguishing feature of top’s style.
The all-encompassing “spinning top”
The term spinning top – or just top – is a broad name. It is used to describe any toy that is designed to spin on its vertical axis while balancing on its tip.
Describing an object as a spinning top doesn’t specify anything about the design, the material, the origin, or the shape of the top. Using the general term spinning top, though, has a high likelihood of being recognized by whoever hears or reads it. Most people are familiar with the concept of a spinning top and most will recall playing with one during childhood.
Spinning top is a widely recognized, catchall term. Unless someone is trying to convey information about a specific style or type of top, this name is the one you’re likely to hear in everyday conversation.
Like spinning top, the term toy top is applied broadly and encompasses many different types of tops. Usually, it is used to describe tops that are designed primarily for use by children in their play. This can be contrasted with tops used for other activities, such as gaming, gambling, or competing.
Toy tops aren’t just for children, though. Tops are one of the few types of toys that are just as (if not more) appealing to adults as they are to kids. Desk toys are popular among adults with desk jobs. It’s hard to beat a top as a desk toy. They are nice to look at, easy to use, and don’t take up much space. You can even get a few minutes of work done while your top is spinning. Some adults collect tops as a hobby. Tops are also common as a simple gift, for both kids and adults.
Twirler top is used to differentiate tops that are set in motion by twisting a stem from other forms, such as yo-yos and whipping tops. The twisting motion is usually accomplished with the fingers. Sometimes a string or other launching device is involved.
Twirlers don’t necessarily need to be specially made for spinning. They don’t even need to be man-made. Everyday objects can be made to twirl, such as acorns or thumbtacks.
Names for specific types of spinning tops
Some types of tops are used for specific purposes, such as playing a game. Many of these have their own names. A few that you may have heard of include:
- Dreidel – a top with 4 flat sides used to play a traditional game during Hanukkah
- Teetotum – a multi-flat-sided top marked with letters and numbers used in Chinese games
- Tippe top – a top that spontaneously inverts itself while spinning
- …and many more!
A top by any other name…
Spinning tops are a cross-cultural toy that the vast majority of people are familiar with. Regardless of the name used to refer to a spinning top, we could see it for the first time and almost instinctively know that it’s meant to be spun on its tip.
Here at Scovie Precision Turning, I refer to my tops simply as tops or spinning tops, unless there is a more specific name I can use to describe them that might help readers and customers understand what they are looking or purchasing. So, whether you know them as spinning tops, toy tops, twirler tops, or any other name, you’ll probably find one that interests you in the Scovie top shop!