toc·​sin | \ ˈtäk-sən How to pronounce tocsin (audio) \

Definition of tocsin

1 : an alarm bell or the ringing of it
2 : a warning signal

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Synonyms for tocsin


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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 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, "The Neocons Strike Back," 23 Jan. 2020

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

First Known Use of tocsin

1586, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tocsin

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

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The first known use of tocsin was in 1586

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Last Updated

1 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tocsin.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Feb. 2020.

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