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)

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 and, after a few centuries of grooming, debuted as a noun referring to a tangled mass (also often used to talk about messy hair), as in “he had a thick tousle of hair.” Etymologists connect tousle 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 13 Jan. 2020 There is some activity on the side of Walnut Hill and Marsh tousled by the winds. Robert Wilonsky, Dallas News, 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,, 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, 2 Dec. 2019 Recent Examples on the Web: Noun The actress finishes the now-signature move, reminiscent of Black Swan, with a coat of mascara, a hair tousle, and a smirk. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, 16 Mar. 2022 The tousle of curlicue leaves grows vine-like, so a shelf or hanger shows it well. Yelena Moroz Alpert, WSJ, 8 Feb. 2022 That is meant neither to be patronizing, nor a pat on the britches and a tousle of the hair. Gordon Monson, The Salt Lake Tribune, 2 Sep. 2021 Biden’s hair is carefully styled into a nonchalant tousle. Washington Post, 29 June 2021 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, 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, 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, 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, 3 July 2018 See More

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.

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

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Cite this Entry

“Tousle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 May. 2022.

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More Definitions for tousle


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

Nglish: Translation of tousle for Spanish Speakers


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