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  1. a slight, sharp, recurring click, tap, or beat, as of a clock.
  2. Chiefly British Informal. a moment or instant.
  3. a small dot, mark, check, or electronic signal, as used to mark off an item on a list, serve as a reminder, or call attention to something.
  4. Stock Exchange.
    1. a movement in the price of a stock, bond, or option.
    2. the smallest possible tick on a given exchange.
  5. Manège. a jumping fault consisting of a light touch of a fence with one or more feet.
  6. a small contrasting spot of color on the coat of a mammal or the feathers of a bird.
verb (used without object)
  1. to emit or produce a tick, like that of a clock.
  2. to pass as with ticks of a clock: The hours ticked by.
verb (used with object)
  1. to sound or announce by a tick or ticks: The clock ticked the minutes.
  2. to mark with a tick or ticks; check (usually followed by off); to tick off the items on the memo.
Verb Phrases
  1. tick off, Slang.
    1. to make angry: His mistreatment of the animals really ticked me off.
    2. Chiefly British.to scold severely: The manager will tick you off if you make another mistake.
  1. what makes one tick, the motive or explanation of one's behavior: The biographer failed to show what made Herbert Hoover tick.

Origin of tick1

1400–50; late Middle English tek little touch; akin to Dutch tik a touch, pat, Norwegian tikka to touch or shove slightly. See tickle
Can be confusedtic tick


  1. any of numerous bloodsucking arachnids of the order Acarina, including the families Ixodidae and Argasidae, somewhat larger than the related mites and having a barbed proboscis for attachment to the skin of warm-blooded vertebrates: some ticks are vectors of disease.
  2. sheeptick.

Origin of tick2

before 900; Middle English teke, tyke, Old English ticia (perhaps spelling error for tiica (i.e. tīca) or ticca); akin to Low German tieke, German Zecke


  1. the cloth case of a mattress, pillow, etc., containing hair, feathers, or the like.
  2. ticking.

Origin of tick3

1425–75; late Middle English tikke, teke, tyke (cognate with Dutch tijk, German Zieche) ≪ Latin tēca, thēca < Greek thḗkē case
Also called bedtick.


noun Chiefly British Informal.
  1. a score or account.
  1. on tick, on credit or trust: We bought our telly on tick.

Origin of tick4

First recorded in 1635–45; short for ticket
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for tick

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • What did it mean by beginning to tick so loudly all of a sudden?

    The Secret Agent

    Joseph Conrad

  • The tick, tick of the watch was just audible in the stillness of the May morning.

    A Spirit in Prison

    Robert Hichens

  • I tick, tick, tick all day over this pesky business, but I don't get anywheres.


    Joseph C. Lincoln

  • How many of them could get tick in London for a new rig-out?

    Ireland as It Is

    Robert John Buckley (AKA R.J.B.)

  • In just two minutes' time to a tick, the price will be thirty.

    The Market-Place

    Harold Frederic

British Dictionary definitions for tick


  1. a recurrent metallic tapping or clicking sound, such as that made by a clock or watch
  2. British informal a moment or instant
  3. a mark (✓) or dash used to check off or indicate the correctness of something
  4. commerce the smallest increment of a price fluctuation in a commodity exchange. Tick size is usually 0.01% of the nominal value of the trading unit
  1. to produce a recurrent tapping sound or indicate by such a soundthe clock ticked the minutes away
  2. (when tr, often foll by off) to mark or check (something, such as a list) with a tick
  3. what makes someone tick informal the basic drive or motivation of a person

Word Origin

C13: from Low German tikk touch; related to Old High German zekōn to pluck, Norwegian tikke to touch


  1. any of various small parasitic arachnids of the families Ixodidae (hard ticks) and Argasidae (soft ticks), typically living on the skin of warm-blooded animals and feeding on the blood and tissues of their hosts: order Acarina (mites and ticks)See also sheep tick (def. 1) Related adjective: acaroid
  2. any of certain other arachnids of the order Acarina
  3. any of certain insects of the dipterous family Hippoboscidae that are ectoparasitic on horses, cattle, sheep, etc, esp the sheep ked

Word Origin

Old English ticca; related to Middle High German zeche tick, Middle Irish dega stag beetle


  1. British informal account or credit (esp in the phrase on tick)

Word Origin

C17: shortened from ticket


  1. the strong covering of a pillow, mattress, etc
  2. informal short for ticking

Word Origin

C15: probably from Middle Dutch tīke; related to Old High German ziecha pillow cover, Latin tēca case, Greek thēkē
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for tick


parasitic blood-sucking arachnid animal, Old English ticia, from West Germanic *tik- (cf. Middle Dutch teke, Dutch teek, Old High German zecho, German Zecke "tick"), of unknown origin. French tique (mid-15c.), Italian zecca are Germanic loan-words.


mid-15c., "light touch or tap," probably from tick (v.) and cognate with Dutch tik, Middle High German zic, and perhaps echoic. Meaning "sound made by a clock" is probably first recorded 1540s; tick-tock is recorded from 1848.


"credit," 1640s, shortening of ticket (n.).


early 13c., "to touch or pat," perhaps from an Old English verb corresponding to tick (n.2), and perhaps ultimately echoic. Cf. Old High German zeckon "to pluck," Dutch tikken "to pat," Norwegian tikke "touch lightly." Related: Ticked; ticking.

To tick (someone) off is from 1915, originally "to reprimand, scold." The verbal phrase tick off was in use in several senses at the time: as what a telegraph instrument does when it types out a message (1873), as what a clock does in marking the passage of time (1846), to enumerate on one's fingers (1899), and in accountancy, etc., "make a mark beside an item on a sheet with a pencil, etc.," often indicating a sale (by 1881). This might be the direct source of the phrase, perhaps via World War I military bureaucratic sense of being marked off from a list as "dismissed" or "ineligible." Meaning "to annoy" is recorded from 1975.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

tick in Medicine


  1. Any of numerous small bloodsucking parasitic arachnids of the families Ixodidae and Argasidae, many of which transmit febrile diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
  2. Any of various usually wingless, louselike insects of the family Hippobosciddae that are parasitic on sheep, goats, and other animals.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

tick in Science


  1. Any of numerous small, parasitic arachnids of the suborder Ixodida that feed on the blood of animals. Like their close relatives the mites and unlike spiders, ticks have no division between cephalothorax and abdomen. Ticks differ from mites by being generally larger and having a sensory pit at the end of their first pair of legs. Many ticks transmit febrile diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with tick


In addition to the idiom beginning with tick

also see:

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.