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tongue definition


This page has 32 definitions of tongue in English. Tongue is a noun and verb. Examples of how to use tongue in a sentence are shown. Also define these 0 related words and terms: .

See also: Tongue


Alternative forms


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, Zazaki Zon, German Zunge, Yiddish צונג(tsung), Danish tunge, Norwegian Bokmål tunge, Swedish tunga, Gothic 𐍄𐌿𐌲𐌲𐍉 (tuggō)), from Proto-Indo-European *dn̥ǵʰwéh₂s.

Cognate with 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 language and lingua.



tongue (countable and uncountable, 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.
    Synonyms: glossa, lingua
    • 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
    • 1902, E. Nesbit, chapter 4, in Five Children and It[1], New York: Dodd, Mead, published 1905, page 136:
      However you eat them, tongue and chicken and new bread are very good things, and no one minds being sprinkled a little with soda-water on a really fine hot day.
  3. Any similar organ, such as the lingual ribbon, or odontophore, of a mollusk; the proboscis of a moth or butterfly; or the lingua of an insect.
  4. (metonymically) A language.
    Synonyms: idiom, language, lingo (colloquial)
    He was speaking in his native tongue.
  5. (obsolete) Speakers of a language, collectively.
  6. (obsolete) Voice (the distinctive sound of a person's speech); accent (distinctive manner of pronouncing a language).
  7. Manner of speaking, often habitually.
    • c. 1515–1516, published 1568, John Skelton, Againſt venemous tongues enpoyſoned with ſclaunder and falſe detractions &c.:
      Al maters wel pondred and wel to be regarded,
      How ſhuld a fals lying tung then be rewarded?
    • 1715, Daniel Defoe, The Family Instructor[3], London: Eman. Matthews, Volume 1, Part 2, Dialogue 2, p. 211:
      [...] his wicked way of Living, his prophane Tongue, and his Contempt of Religion, had made him not very well receiv’d [...]
    • 1886 May 1 – July 31, Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Death of the Red Fox”, in Kidnapped, being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: [], London, Paris: Cassell & Company, published 1886, →OCLC, page 162:
      "Well," said he, at last, "your tongue is bold; but I am no unfriend to plainness [...]"
    • 1935, Dorothy L. Sayers, chapter 8, in Gaudy Night[4], London: New English Library, published 1970, page 205:
      I’m afraid I’ve inherited my uncle’s tongue and my mother’s want of tact.
    • 1952, John Steinbeck, East of Eden[5], London: Heinemann, Part 1, Chapter 2, p. 8:
      Samuel had no equal for soothing hysteria and bringing quiet to a frightened child. It was the sweetness of his tongue and the tenderness of his soul.
    • 1972, Hortense Calisher, Herself[6], New York: Arbor House, Part 4, p. 369:
      [...] Frank MarcusSister George, technically a quite ordinary comedy in the old style [...] was remarkable [...] for the frank tongue of its Lesbians [...]
  8. (metonymically) A person speaking in a specified manner (most often plural).
    • 1860, George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss[7], Book 7, Chapter 3:
      I know that we must keep apart for a long while; cruel tongues would force us apart, if nothing else did.
    • 1936 June 30, Margaret Mitchell, chapter 30, in Gone with the Wind, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, →OCLC; republished New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Company, 1944, →OCLC:
      [] 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,[8]
      [...] 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.
  9. The power of articulate utterance; speech generally.
    • 1717, “The Story of Pygmalion and the Statue”, in John Dryden, transl., Ovid’s Metamorphoses in fifteen books[9], London: Jacob Tonson, page 344:
      Parrots imitating Human Tongue
  10. (obsolete) Discourse; fluency of speech or expression.
  11. (obsolete, uncountable) Discourse; fluency of speech or expression.
  12. (obsolete) Honourable discourse; eulogy.
  13. (religion, often in the plural) Glossolalia.
    Synonym: speaking in tongues
  14. 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, chapter 3, in Age of Iron[10], New York: Random House, page 96:
      I caught a glimpse of a brown boot, the tongue flapping, the sole tied on with string.
    • 2006, Sarah Waters, chapter 2, in The Night Watch[11], London: Virago, page 53:
      [...] 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.
  15. 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.
  16. A projection, or slender appendage or fixture.
    the tongue of a buckle, or of a balance
  17. 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.
  18. 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[12], Garden City, NY: Doubleday, page 91:
      Far to the right, where the main pile sloped out, his cart reared tongue upward, like a plow.
  19. The clapper of a bell.
  20. (figuratively) An individual point of flame from a fire.
    • 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Revolt of Islam[14], London: C. and J. Ollier, Canto 3, stanza 13, p. 63:
      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.
  21. A small sole (type of fish).
  22. (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.
  23. (music) A reed.
  24. (geology) A division of formation; A layer or member of a formation that pinches out in one direction.



See also

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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 terms

Terms derived from the noun or verb tongue

See also