tocsin

noun

toc·​sin ˈtäk-sən How to pronounce tocsin (audio)
1
: an alarm bell or the ringing of it
2
: a warning signal

Did you know?

Although it has occasionally been spelled like its homonym toxin, tocsin has nothing to do with poison. Rather, it is derived from the Middle French toquassen, which in turn comes from the Old Occitan tocasenh, and ultimately from the assumed Vulgar Latin verb toccare ("to ring a bell") and the Latin signum ("mark, sign"), which have given us, respectively, the English words touch and signal. Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.

Examples of tocsin in a Sentence

the tocsin rang out, warning us of the approaching tornado noted that a sudden drop in a student's grades may be a tocsin of a serious personal problem
Recent Examples on the Web Singer Building housed a sewing-machine company, but its slender campanile might have served to ring tocsins or watch for approaching armies. Justin Davidson, Curbed, 3 Aug. 2023 The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Hudson Institute, and AEI have all been sounding the tocsin about Iran for decades. Jacob Heilbrunn, The New Republic, 23 Jan. 2020

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tocsin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

Middle French toquassen, from Old Occitan tocasenh, from tocar to touch, ring a bell (from Vulgar Latin *toccare) + senh sign, bell, from Medieval Latin & Latin signum; Medieval Latin, bell, from Late Latin, ringing of a bell, from Latin, mark, sign — more at touch entry 1, sign

First Known Use

1586, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of tocsin was in 1586

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Dictionary Entries Near tocsin

Cite this Entry

“Tocsin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tocsin. Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

tocsin

noun
toc·​sin ˈtäk-sən How to pronounce tocsin (audio)
1
: an alarm bell or the ringing of it
2
: a warning signal
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