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

And now her son Kaius Jagger, 5½, has developed a fashionable look of his own: tousled long locks! Hanna Flanagan,, "Rachel Zoe Defends Son's Long Hair That He Thinks Is 'Cool': 'It's Not Like I'm Torturing Him'," 12 Sep. 2019 Snapped on the streets of New York City yesterday, Hathaway debuted her flame red hair color, which was textured and tousled à la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Christian Allaire, Vogue, "Anne Hathaway Says Hello to Shocking Red Hair—and Goodbye to Girl-Next-Door Brunette," 21 Nov. 2018 As for the lion's mane, consider buying a Bon Jovi-esque wig and tousling it with some hair spray for some extra-fabulous volume. Kayla Keegan, Good Housekeeping, "These 'Masked Singer' Halloween Costumes Are the Biggest Mic Drop of All Time," 21 June 2019 The secret to getting that tousled I-just-rolled-in-the-sand look lies in one product: salt spray. Audrey Noble, Harper's BAZAAR, "The Best Salt Sprays for All Hair Types," 8 Apr. 2019 Just look to Emily Ratajkowski, whose cultivated abs and legs-for-days were outshone only by a tousled, breezily pinned updo that melded Sophia Loren's brand of bombshell glamour with a wash of millennial insouciance. Calin Van Paris, Vogue, "Emily Ratajkowski Pins Her Hair Up—and Channels an Iconic Italian Bombshell in Milan," 24 Sep. 2018 But mostly the screen just projected what people really wanted to see: Shawn striking poses with his guitar, Shawn tousling his black hair, Shawn subtly flexing his arms in a way that miraculously doesn’t seem smarmy. Ashley Naftule, azcentral, "Shawn Mendes makes all the girls (and women) scream At Gila River Arena," 10 July 2019 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

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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Statistics for tousle

Last Updated

17 Sep 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

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to fake an opponent out of position

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