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Brian J. Rezin of Russellville inquires about “the regional usage of the term ‘toboggan.’ ”

“As a Yankee transplant, I am most familiar with the definition typically shown in dictionaries: A long, narrow, runnerless sled constructed of thin boards curled upward at the front end,” Rezin writes. “After moving to Arkansas a dozen years ago, I heard Russellville locals refer to a stocking cap as a ‘toboggan.’ I’ve also learned that this usage is common in parts of Tennessee. And in the Feb. 15 issue of the Times, Jim Harris uses this non-standard colloquialism in his review of the Goo Goo Dolls on page 23. My dictionaries do not list this usage as even a second or third version of the noun (and a couple of on-line dictionaries I checked didn’t show the alternate definition either) …”

As a non-transplant, I’ve heard a stocking cap called a “toboggan” for as long as I can remember. But I’ve now learned that Mr. Rezin is correct about the usage being hard to find in a dictionary. My big Random House doesn’t have it. I did find it in an on-line Merriam-Webster, which lists it as the third definition of toboggan and says it’s “chiefly Southern and Midland.” Merriam-Webster also says that the original “sled” toboggan is from the Canadian French tobogan, and is “of Algonquian origin.” How the word evolved from “sled” to “cap” on its way south remains a mystery, as does the origin of Goo Goo Dolls.

The question was raised in a Times staff meeting, “What’s so cute about a button?” (Also raised was the question of whether Bigfoot could defeat a grizzly bear. Research continues on that one.) What’s cute about a button is that it’s little. Stuart Berg Flexner’s “Listening to America” says that cute means “charming, attractive, almost always with the connotation of being small … cute as a bug’s ear, cute as a bug in a rug, cute as a button.”

I’d always thought that a bug in a rug was snug, but I guess it could be cute too.

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