TOP (cf. Dan. top, Ger. Topf, also meaning pot), a toy consisting of a body of conical, circular or oval shape with a point or peg on which it turns or is made to whirl. The twisting or whirling motion is applied by whipping or lashing when it is a " whipping top " or " peg-top," or by the rapid unwinding of a string tightly wound round a head or handle. When the body is hollow this results in a whirring noise, whence the name " humming top." Other kinds of tops are made as supports for coloured disks which on revolving show a kaleidoscopic variation of patterns. The top is also used in certain games of chance, when it is generally known as a " teetotum." There are many references to it in ancient classical literature. The Greek terms for the toy are /3e/ij3t^, which was evidently the whipping or peg top (Arist. Birds, 1461), and orpo/SiXos, a humming top, spun by a string (Plato, Rep. iv. 436 E.). In Homer (//. xiv. 413) the word orpo/Lt/Sos seems to point to the humming top. The Latin name for the top was turbo. This word and the Greek /ioju/3os are sometimes translated by " top " when they refer to the instrument used in the Dionysiac mysteries, which, when whirled in the air by a string, produced a booming noise. This was no doubt the equivalent of the " bull roarer " (q.v.). Strutt (Games and Pastimes, 491) says that the top was known in England as early as the 14th century. For the scientific properties of the top see GYROSCOPE and GYROSTAT.
This word must be distinguished from that signifying the highest or uppermost part of anything. It appears to have meant originally a tuft or crest of hair, cf. Ger. Zopf, Du. top, Icel. topps, etc. ; it is allied to Eng. " tap," a spike for a cask, and " tip,' point. Some etymologists have identified the two words, the toy being so called from spinning on its top or tip, but the two German forms seem to prove conclusively that the words are different.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)