See also: Tongue


Alternative formsEdit


From Middle English tonge, tunge, tung, from Old English tunge, from Proto-West Germanic *tungā, from Proto-Germanic *tungǭ (tongue) (compare West Frisian tonge, Dutch tong, Luxembourgish Zong, German Zunge, Yiddish צונג(tsung), Danish tunge, Norwegian Bokmål tunge, Swedish tunga, Gothic 𐍄𐌿𐌲𐌲𐍉 (tuggō)), from Proto-Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s.

See also Old Irish tengae, Latin lingua, Tocharian A käntu, Tocharian B kantwo, Lithuanian liežùvis, Russian язык (jazyk), Polish język, Old Armenian լեզու (lezu), Avestan 𐬵𐬌𐬰𐬎𐬎𐬁(hizuuā), Ashkun žū, Kamkata-viri dić, Sanskrit जिह्वा (jihvā́). Doublet of langue and lingua.



tongue (plural tongues)

  1. The flexible muscular organ in the mouth that is used to move food around, for tasting and that is moved into various positions to modify the flow of air from the lungs in order to produce different sounds in speech.
    • c. 1515–1516, published 1568, John Skelton, Againſt venemous tongues enpoyſoned with ſclaunder and falſe detractions &c.:
      But lering and lurking here and there like ſpies,
      The devil tere their tunges and pike out their ies!
  2. (countable, uncountable) This organ, as taken from animals used for food (especially cows).−
    cold tongue with mustard
  3. (metonymically) A language.
    Synonyms: idiom, language, lingo (colloquial)
    He was speaking in his native tongue.
    • 1591, Edmund Spenser, “The Ruines of Time” in Complaints, containing sundrie small poemes of the worlds vanitie, London: William Ponsonbie,[2]
      [...] that great Towre, which is so much renownd
      For tongues confusion in holie writ,
    • 1726, Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, London: Benjamin Motte, Volume 1, Part 2, Chapter 2, p. 178,[3]
      When I pointed to any thing, she told me the Name of it in her own Tongue, so that in a few Days I was able to call for whatever I had a mind to.
    • 1878, Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native, Book 1, Chapter 7,[4]
      To dwell on a heath without studying its meanings was like wedding a foreigner without learning his tongue.
    • 1958, Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, New York: Knopf, 1992, Chapter 23, p. 166,[5]
      Many of them come from distant places and although they speak your tongue they are ignorant of your customs.
    • 2002, Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, New York: Picador, Book 2, p. 99,[6]
      My grandfather, accustomed to the multifarious conjugations of ancient Greek verbs, had found English, for all its incoherence, a relatively simple tongue to master.
  4. (obsolete) Speakers of a language, collectively.
  5. (obsolete) Voice (the distinctive sound of a person's speech); accent (distinctive manner of pronouncing a language).
  6. Manner of speaking, often habitually.
  7. (metonymically) A person speaking in a specified manner (most often plural).
    • 1860, George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book 7, Chapter 3,[14]
      I know that we must keep apart for a long while; cruel tongues would force us apart, if nothing else did.
    • 1936, Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, Part 3, Chapter 30,[15]
      [...] it was obvious to his listeners that Pittypat, in his mind, was still a plump and charming miss of sixteen who must be sheltered against evil tongues.
    • 2007, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow, New York: Knopf Doubleday, Book 4, p. 592,[16]
      [...] the drunk, who had been a permanent fixture in that bar, changed location and thereafter moved from bar to bar, saying to inquisitive tongues, Too long a stay in one seat tires the buttocks.
  8. The power of articulate utterance; speech generally.
    • 1717, John Dryden (translator), Ovid’s Metamorphoses in fifteen books, London: Jacob Tonson, “The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue,” p. 344,[17]
      Parrots imitating Human Tongue
  9. (obsolete) Discourse; fluency of speech or expression.
  10. (obsolete, uncountable) Discourse; fluency of speech or expression.
    • c. 1597, William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, Act V, Scene 2,[18]
      [...] fellows, soldiers, friends,
      Better consider what you have to do
      Than I, that have not well the gift of tongue,
      Can lift your blood up with persuasion.
    • 1692, Roger L’Estrange, Fables of Æsop and Other Eminent Mythologists with Morals and Reflexions, London: R. Sare et al., [19]
      Much Tongue, and much Judgment seldom go together, for Talking and Thinking are Two Quite Differing Faculties,
    • 1876, George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, Chapter 31,[20]
      “[...] this Mr. Grandcourt has wonderful little tongue. Everything must be done dummy-like without his ordering.”
      “Then he’s the more whip, I doubt,” said Mrs. Girdle. “She’s got tongue enough, I warrant her [...]”
  11. (obsolete) Honourable discourse; eulogy.
  12. (religion, often in the plural) Glossolalia.
    Synonym: speaking in tongues
    • 1611, King James Version of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13.8,[22]
      Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
  13. In a shoe, the flap of material that goes between the laces and the foot (so called because it resembles a tongue in the mouth).
    • 1990, J. M. Coetzee, Age of Iron, New York: Random House, Chapter 3, p. 96,[23]
      I caught a glimpse of a brown boot, the tongue flapping, the sole tied on with string.
    • 2006, Sarah Waters, The Night Watch, London: Virago, Chapter 2, p. 53,[24]
      [...] her low-heeled shoes had flat fringed tongues to them—the kind of shoes you expected to see on a golf-course, or a Scottish highland, somewhere expensively hearty like that.
  14. Any large or long physical protrusion on an automotive or machine part or any other part that fits into a long groove on another part.
  15. A projection, or slender appendage or fixture.
    the tongue of a buckle, or of a balance
  16. A long, narrow strip of land, projecting from the mainland into a sea or lake.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chapter 12:
      On one side was a coral reef; on the other a low tongue of land, covered with mangrove thickets that grew out into the water.
  17. The pole of a vehicle; especially, the pole of an ox cart, to the end of which the oxen are yoked.
    • 1986, Hortense Calisher, The Bobby-Soxer, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, p. 91,[25]
      Far to the right, where the main pile sloped out, his cart reared tongue upward, like a plow.
  18. The clapper of a bell.
  19. (figuratively) An individual point of flame from a fire.
    • 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Revolt of Islam, London: C. and J. Ollier, Canto 3, stanza 13, p. 63,[28]
      Then up a steep and dark and narrow stair
      We wound, until the torches’ fiery tongue
      Amid the gushing day beamless and pallid hung.
    • 1895, H. G. Wells, chapter XI, in The Time Machine:
      Now, in this decadent age the art of fire-making had been altogether forgotten on the earth. The red tongues that went licking up my heap of wood were an altogether new and strange thing to Weena.
  20. A small sole (type of fish).
  21. (nautical) A short piece of rope spliced into the upper part of standing backstays, etc.; also, the upper main piece of a mast composed of several pieces.
  22. (music) A reed.
  23. (geology) A division of formation; A layer or member of a formation that pinches out in one direction.


See alsoEdit


tongue (third-person singular simple present tongues, present participle tonguing, simple past and past participle tongued)

  1. (music, transitive, intransitive) On a wind instrument, to articulate a note by starting the air with a tap of the tongue, as though by speaking a 'd' or 't' sound (alveolar plosive).
    Playing wind instruments involves tonguing on the reed or mouthpiece.
  2. (slang) To manipulate with the tongue, as in kissing or oral sex.
  3. To protrude in relatively long, narrow sections.
    a soil horizon that tongues into clay
  4. To join by means of a tongue and groove.
    to tongue boards together
  5. (intransitive, obsolete) To talk; to prate.
  6. (transitive, obsolete) To speak; to utter.
  7. (transitive, obsolete) To chide; to scold.

Derived termsEdit

Terms derived from the noun or verb tongue

See alsoEdit