tou·​sle | \ ˈtau̇-zəl How to pronounce tousle (audio) , -səl \
tousled; tousling\ ˈtau̇z-​liŋ How to pronounce tousle (audio) , ˈtau̇s-​ ; ˈtau̇-​zə-​ , -​sə-​ \

Definition of tousle

 (Entry 1 of 2)

transitive verb

: dishevel, rumple tousled hair


tou·​sle | \ ˈtau̇-zəl How to pronounce tousle (audio) , sense 1 is also ˈtü- \

Definition of tousle (Entry 2 of 2)

1 Scotland : rough dalliance : tussle
2 : a tangled mass (as of hair)

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Tousle and Functional Shift


Tousle is a word that has been through what linguists call a "functional shift." That's a fancy way of saying it was originally one part of speech, then gradually came to have an additional function. Tousle started out as a verb back in the 15th century. By the late 19th century, it was also being used as a noun meaning "a tangled mass (as of hair)." Etymologists connect the word to an Old High German word meaning "to pull to pieces."

Examples of tousle in a Sentence

Verb She tousled the little boy's hair. his grandfather would always tousle the boy's neatly combed hair
Recent Examples on the Web: Verb In front of him was a woman with her face thrown up to the sky, her hands rising as if to tousle her hair. Amanda Hess, New York Times, "The Social-Distancing Shamers Are Watching," 11 May 2020 Paired with Messika’s triangular diamond drop earrings, tousled waves by hairstylist Mark Townsend, and a bold plum lip courtesy of makeup artist Georgie Eisdell, the look felt effortless. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Dakota Johnson Rips Up the Rulebook on Ballgowns," 28 Oct. 2019 Since the big bob chop, she's been sporting her short hair in a myriad of ways—including tousled and sleek styles. Maya Allen, Marie Claire, "Kaia Gerber Just Cut Her Hair the Shortest It's Ever Been," 10 Dec. 2019 Sometime between the night Jimmy Fallon tousled Trump’s hair and the night Trump won the election, audiences lost their taste for performatively nonpartisan humor. Jessica M. Goldstein, Washington Post, "The calm in the storm," 13 Feb. 2020 Using the original audio from the episode, McGrady acts out Jim’s part of the exchange while rocking everyone’s favorite sales guy’s signature button down shirt, tie and tousled hair look. Megan Mccluskey, Time, "Guy Who Is a Dead Ringer for The Office's Jim Halpert Is Really Leaning in Hard," 13 Jan. 2020 There is some activity on the side of Walnut Hill and Marsh tousled by the winds. Robert Wilonsky, Dallas News, "‘Frustrating and depressing’: Why much of NW Dallas looks like the Oct. 20 tornado happened yesterday," 17 Jan. 2020 The photo shows Aniston in the middle of the group, posing with her hand over her mouth, while Dern, 52, stood next to Aniston, tousling her own hair. Ashley Boucher,, "Jennifer Aniston Shares Holiday Photo with Rita Wilson and Laura Dern: 'Lotta Love in That Room'," 23 Dec. 2019 The styles include textured waves cascading down her back, tousled curls underneath a cap (which only a rare few can make look stylish), a natural blowout, and a noteworthy floor grazing Dominatrix braided ponytail. Shalwah Evans, Essence, "Solange's Instagram Hair Changes Are The Monday Motivation We Need," 2 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Such an admission may come as a surprise to Americans who associate Gallic lengths more with Brigitte Bardot’s famous tousle than the traditionally sporty style, but of course, this is no post-workout ponytail. Zoe Ruffner, Vogue, "This French-Girl Ponytail Trick Is About to Arrive Stateside," 11 May 2018 The tousle-haired Bennett was expected to compete this year for the maillot jaune, the yellow jersey worn by the Tour’s leader. Michael Powell, New York Times, "At Tour de France, Rules of the Road Are Often Unspoken," 25 July 2019 Work with a host of hardworking stylers and tools to give you just the right whiff of woke-up-like-this tousle. Glamour, "Beauty Awards: The 29 Best Products for Straight Hair," 25 Mar. 2019 And while the iconic all-American hairstyle is most often worn in a textured, post-gym tousle and paired with Yeezy athleisure, Depp's front row incarnation took the look firmly into couture territory like only a local can. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, "At Chanel, Lily-Rose Depp Gives a Lesson in the French vs. American Ponytail," 3 July 2018 One look at Bieber’s bedhead hair over the past several days said everything, courtesy of a messy tousle that read like a cry for help. Liana Satenstein, Vogue, "What Justin Bieber’s Hair Can Tell Us About His Breakup with Selena Gomez," 9 Mar. 2018 Keeping a step ahead of melodrama is a convincing cast, energetically led by the tousle-haired young Khattar, whose noteworthy screen charisma promises well for his future career. Deborah Young, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Beyond the Clouds' ('Ansooy-e Abrha'): Film Review," 22 Jan. 2018 His thick russet thatches exist in a state of perpetual tousle, as though magnetized by the invisible energy of some faraway Tesla coil. Robert Hackett, Fortune, "Can This Man Build a Better Bitcoin?," 18 Dec. 2017 Then there’s the true trademark: louche bedhead waves that recall the designer’s own trademark tousle, seen flying through the air behind him at the end of each show. Monica Kim, Vogue, "8 Supercharged Beauty Trends That Took Off at Alexander Wang," 9 Sep. 2017

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

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First Known Use of tousle


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1788, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tousle


Middle English touselen, frequentative of -tousen

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Time Traveler for tousle

Time Traveler

The first known use of tousle was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Tousle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Apr. 2021.

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More Definitions for tousle



English Language Learners Definition of tousle

: to make (someone's hair) untidy


tou·​sle | \ ˈtau̇-zəl How to pronounce tousle (audio) \
tousled; tousling

Kids Definition of tousle

: to put into disorder by rough handling She tousled my hair.

More from Merriam-Webster on tousle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tousle

Nglish: Translation of tousle for Spanish Speakers

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