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


She tousled the little boy's hair. his grandfather would always tousle the boy's neatly combed hair

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

A few coworkers hugged Liette and thanked her; most went straight down to the dog’s level to tousle her golden fur. The Washington Post, The Mercury News, "Virginia Beach releases letter sent before shooting rampage," 3 June 2019 Lili paired the dress with some classic nude Stuart Weitzman pumps, a soft nude pink lip, and tousled waves for a truly enchanting look. Kara Nesvig, Teen Vogue, "Lili Reinhart Wears Brock Collection Floral Dress to W Magazine's Best Performances Party," 6 Jan. 2019 In the hair department, there were more than a few brushed blowouts, as Regina King and Michelle Yeoh showed off their bombshell tousled lengths—proof that for the Oscars, old school beauty rules still win. Jenna Rennert, Vogue, "The Best Beauty Looks From the 2019 Oscars," 25 Feb. 2019 Falchuk went a similar route with a three-piece design featuring a darker vest beneath a dove gray jacket, a winning combination that, when paired with his sunglasses and tousled hair, managed to seem relaxed. Janelle Okwodu, Vogue, "Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk Take the Power Suit Into Couple’s Territory," 5 Dec. 2018 Stella Maxwell tousled her hair in a flirty backstage shot. Isabel Greenberg, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Best Instagrams from the 2018 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show," 9 Nov. 2018 The footwear included a high heel, and Blake finished off the look with simple jewelry and tousled hair, looking perfectly festive for the holiday season. De Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "Blake Lively Wears Sequined Dress and Matching Thigh-High Boots at Chanel Métiers d'Art Show," 9 Dec. 2018 Just two weeks ago, Rihanna’s makeup tutorial for Vogue saw her rocking super long, thick hair with beauty waves and tousled ends. Lucy Wood, Marie Claire, "Rihanna Got a Bob Haircut and It's Already My Summer Hair Inspo," 26 July 2018 Betty’s trademark ponytail was nowhere in sight; Lili opted to wear her shoulder-length blonde hair down and slightly tousled, giving the look an easy, lived-in elegance. Kara Nesvig, Teen Vogue, "Lili Reinhart and Camila Mendes Match in Black Lace at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards," 17 June 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

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 The tousle-haired musician is 47 and married with two kids, but his age doesn’t show. Chris Martins, Los Angeles Magazine, "The L.A./Icon Interview: Beck," 17 Oct. 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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Statistics for tousle

Last Updated

11 Jun 2019

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tousle

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

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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.

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More from Merriam-Webster on tousle

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tousle

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tousle

Spanish Central: Translation of tousle

Nglish: Translation of tousle for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tousle

What made you want to look up tousle? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


appealing forcibly to the mind or reason

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