tom·​bo·​la | \ ˈtām-bə-lə How to pronounce tombola (audio) , British usually täm-ˈbō-lə \
plural tombolas

Definition of tombola

chiefly British
: a raffle in which usually numbered tickets are drawn at random from a revolving drum with prizes awarded to those drawing tickets that match numbers preassigned to a prize Tickets this year cost £27, but a student organising committee has been working for months on raising money through tombolas and cake sales to keep costs down.— Sally Weale also : the drum from which tickets are drawn … while punters bet on six numbers between one and 49 chosen from a spinning tombola, the bookmakers are adamant that in no way, shape or form is it a genuine lottery. — Greg Wood

First Known Use of tombola

1835, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for tombola

borrowed from Italian tombola (Neapolitan dialect tómmula) "game resembling bingo played with cards bearing rows of numbers," of uncertain origin

Note: Italian tombola appears to be a nominal derivative of tombolare "to fall headlong, tumble," a derivative with the verbal suffix -ol- (denoting a modified degree of an action) of tombare "to fall," probably of Germanic origin (see tumble entry 1). The semantic motivation is unclear, however; the suggestion in M. Cortelazzo and P. Zolli, Dizionario etimologico della lingua italiana (Bologna, 1988), that the reference is to the falling action of the losers of the game when the winner emerges, is not very convincing. The motivation for the adoption of the word in English is equally unclear, as the Italian game uses numbers, but is not a raffle. French tombola, borrowed from Italian at about the same time as the English word, apparently describes both the Italian game and something resembling the English one, though the evidence for the former appears to be limited to dictionaries.

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The first known use of tombola was in 1835

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Cite this Entry

“Tombola.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Jan. 2021.

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