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

transitive verb

: dishevel, rumple
tousled hair


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tou·​sle ˈtau̇-zəl How to pronounce tousle (audio)
 sense 1 is also  ˈtü-
Scotland : rough dalliance : tussle
: 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 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
To round out all the looks, model Precious Lee wore her hair tousled into an updo, with just a touch of lip gloss to end the week. India Espy-Jones, Essence, 2 Feb. 2024 The waves weren't precise or uniform in shape, but rather looked as though they'd been styled with a three-barrel iron, then roughed up and tousled for an undone finish. Kara Nesvig, Allure, 25 Jan. 2024 For that morning’s scene, her light-auburn hair had been artfully curled and tousled by her longtime hairdresser, Frédéric Souquet. Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, 6 Dec. 2023 Both the royal and the presidential couples appeared to struggle with a strong wind, which tousled Macron’s hair and forced Camilla to hold on tightly to her pink, beret-style hat. Sylvie Corbet, Fortune, 20 Sep. 2023 Follow-up videos then showed the mom-of-four posing with her hair tousled to one side and pouting her lips with a hand held up to her face. Jill Lupupa, Peoplemag, 28 July 2023 The president’s granddaughter, Naomi Biden Neal, opted for a strappy sequined silver dress, her hair loosely tousled; her aunt, Ashley Biden, wore a petal-pink cape with beaded epaulets. Zoe Glasser, Washington Post, 23 June 2023 Her peplum jacket and skirt with white embroidery were also tousled in the wind. Naledi Ushe, USA TODAY, 13 Mar. 2023 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
In more images from the collab, stylist Lorenzo Martin upped the tousle factor even more. Kara Nesvig, Allure, 18 Oct. 2023 Go for a texture spray to give just a hint of hold and a whole lot of cool-girl, woke-up-like-this tousle. Patricia Shannon, Southern Living, 21 July 2023 Charles stands as the bridge to generations and generations of inevitability — all the way down to 9-year-old Prince George, the someday-king with a tousle of blond hair and fidgety energy. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, 20 Sep. 2022 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 See More

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

Word History



Middle English touselen, frequentative of -tousen

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined above


1788, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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


Dictionary Entries Near tousle

Cite this Entry

“Tousle.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


tousled; tousling
: to put into disorder by rough handling

More from Merriam-Webster on tousle

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