timbre

noun
tim·​bre | \ ˈtam-bər How to pronounce timbre (audio) , ˈtim-; ˈtam(brᵊ) \
variants: or less commonly timber

Definition of timbre

: the quality given to a sound by its overtones: such as
a : the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound
b : the quality of tone distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument

Other Words from timbre

timbral \ ˈtam-​brəl How to pronounce timbre (audio) , ˈtim-​ \ adjective

Timber and Timbre

Timber and timbre are two similar-looking words that appear in very different contexts. At least most of the time.

Timber traces back to an Old English word initially meaning “house” or “building” that also came to mean “building material,” “wood,” and “trees” or “woods.” Timbers are large squared lengths of wood used for building a house or a boat. In British English, timber is also used as a synonym for lumber.

Metaphorical senses followed after centuries of the word’s use: the word used for building material became a word meaning “material” or “stuff” in general (“it’s best-seller timber”) and came also to refer to the qualities of character, experience, or intellect (“managerial timber”).

And, of course, there’s also the interjectional use of “timber!” as a cry to warn of a falling tree; the fact that most people know this despite few of them ever having deployed the word in such a situation is almost certainly due to cartoons.

Timbre is French in origin, which is apparent in its pronunciation: it is often pronounced \TAM-ber\ and, with a more French-influenced second syllable, \TAM-bruh\. The French ancestor of timbre was borrowed at three different times into English, each time with a different meaning, each time reflecting the evolution that the word had made in French.

The first two meanings timbre had in English (it referred to a kind of drum and to the crest on a coat of arms) are now too obscure for entry in this dictionary, but its third meaning survives. Timbre in modern English generally refers to the quality of a sound made by a particular voice or musical instrument; timbre is useful in being distinct from pitch, intensity, and loudness as a descriptor of sound.

But because English is rarely simple about such things, we have also these facts: timber is listed as a variant spelling of timbre. And timbre may also be correctly pronounced just like timber as \TIM-ber\. And the spelling of timber was unsettled for many years; it was sometimes spelled tymmer, tymber, and, yes, timbre. The messy overlapping of these similar words is coincidental: the consequence of the intersection of the different cultures and languages that left their traces on English.

Examples of timbre in a Sentence

the timbre of his voice
Recent Examples on the Web This smaller band seemed paradoxically louder, more powerful, as each player’s precise control of their own timbre, bow weight, and articulation was striking in this smaller hall. Luke Schulze, San Diego Union-Tribune, 16 May 2022 With that unmistakable guitar singing in symphony with a colorful palette of musical styles and voices, from Branch’s sweet timbre to the dramatic rumble of tenor Plácido Domingo, Shaman is the kind of pop album only Carlos Santana could make. Yasmine Shemesh, Billboard, 22 Mar. 2022 Yet Goebel heard the words in his voice, with his timbre. T. M. Luhrmann, Harper’s Magazine , 16 Feb. 2022 As with his Olivier-winning King Charles III, Bartlett attempts to add a Shakespearean timbre to proceedings, with mixed success this time. Demetrios Matheou, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Apr. 2022 Pimienta’s music frequently unfurls over the traditional folk rhythms of her native Colombia, but the Canadian pop singer’s sense of melody and timbre conjure an almost otherworldly sense of gravity and light — maybe even for her. Washington Post, 3 Mar. 2022 That’s enough for any X-Men and MCU fan — and any Star Trek fan — to recognize Patrick Stewart’s timbre. Chris Smith, BGR, 21 Feb. 2022 Mahler, Bartok, and Debussy — whose use of color and timbre fascinated Dr. Crumb — were other important compositional influences. Vivien Schweitzer, BostonGlobe.com, 7 Feb. 2022 Mahler, Bartok and Debussy — whose use of color and timbre fascinated him — were other important compositional influences. Vivien Schweitzer, New York Times, 6 Feb. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'timbre.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of timbre

1845, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for timbre

French, from Middle French, bell struck by a hammer, from Old French, drum, from Middle Greek tymbanon kettledrum, from Greek tympanon — more at tympanum

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Dictionary Entries Near timbre

timbo

timbre

timbrel

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Statistics for timbre

Last Updated

19 May 2022

Cite this Entry

“Timbre.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/timbre. Accessed 22 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for timbre

timbre

noun
tim·​bre
variants: also timber \ ˈtam-​bər How to pronounce timbre (audio) , ˈtim-​; ˈtam(brᵊ) How to pronounce timbre (audio) \

Medical Definition of timbre

: the quality given to a sound by its overtones: as
a : the resonance by which the ear recognizes and identifies a voiced speech sound
b : the quality of tone distinctive of a particular singing voice or musical instrument

Other Words from timbre

timbral \ ˈtam-​brəl How to pronounce timbre (audio) , ˈtim-​ How to pronounce timbre (audio) \ adjective

More from Merriam-Webster on timbre

Nglish: Translation of timbre for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of timbre for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about timbre

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