Polly, a library worker in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, wonders about the correct term for the fuzzy puffball atop a warm hat. Is it a tribble or a pompom? The word tribble first appeared in the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” In the 1967 script by screenwriter and novelist David Gerrold, the Starship Enterprise is overrun by cute, furry creatures called tribbles who do little more than coo and reproduce. Gerrold’s coinage has since migrated into mainstream culture. The word pompom has been around since the 1500s, and may be related to pomp, meaning “ostentatious display.”

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