Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
June 13th, 2016
Episode 554 of 681 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 13, 2016 is: tocsin \TOCK-sin\ noun 1 : an alarm bell or the ringing of it 2 : a warning signal Examples: A coalition of parents was sounding the tocsin for the school music program—if voters didn't approve a tax increase, the program was sure to be axed. "That may sound alarmist, but thetocsinis being rung by some pretty sober people." — Doyle McManus, Advance-News (Ogdensburg, New York), 16 Feb. 2016 Did you know? Although it has occasionally been spelled like its homonym toxin, tocsin has nothing to do with poison. Rather, it is derived from the Middle French toquassen, which in turn comes from the Old Occitan tocasenh, and ultimately from the assumed Vulgar Latin verb toccare ("to ring a bell") and the Latin signum ("mark, sign"), which have given us, respectively, the English words touch and signal. Tocsin long referred to the ringing of church bells to signal events of importance to local villagers, including dangerous events such as attacks. Its use was eventually broadened to cover anything that signals danger or trouble.