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[tawngz, tongz] /tɔŋz, tɒŋz/
noun, (usually used with a plural verb)
any of various implements consisting of two arms hinged, pivoted, or otherwise fastened together, for seizing, holding, or lifting something (usually used with pair of).
Origin of tongs
See origin at tong1
Can be confused
thongs, tongs, tongues.


[tawng, tong] /tɔŋ, tɒŋ/
verb (used with object)
to lift, seize, gather, hold, or handle with tongs, as logs or oysters.
verb (used without object)
to use, or work with, tongs.
before 900; 1865-70, for def 2; Middle English tong(e) (singular), tongen, tonges (plural), Old English; cognate with Dutch tang, German Zange pair of tongs or pincers; akin to Greek dáknein to bite
Related forms
tonger, noun
Can be confused
thong, tong, tongue.


[tawng, tong] /tɔŋ, tɒŋ/
(in China) an association, society, or political party.
(among Chinese living in the U.S.) a fraternal or secret society, often associated with criminal activities.
1880-85, Americanism; < dialectal Chinese (Guangdong) tòhng, akin to Chinese táng meeting hall Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for tongs
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Constance had set to work poking the fire logs with the tongs.

    Fruitfulness Emile Zola
  • If it were a Westralian or a Kaffir I would n't touch it with a pair of tongs!

    Joy (First Series Plays) John Galsworthy
  • He even got up in revival meetin' and laid into it hammer and tongs.

    Thankful's Inheritance Joseph C. Lincoln
  • Here is shown a pair of tongs that makes easy work of the job.

  • While Pensioner was saying this, he took the tongs and picked a live coal from the fire.

  • You've just promised me not to, and here you are it, hammer and tongs, under my very eyes.

    Miss Pat at School

    Pemberton Ginther
  • One stands in the wagon and swings the big blocks upward with his tongs.


    Christopher Morley
  • “Yes,” said Mr. tongs, who seemed to think it time to put in his word.

    The Golden Shoemaker

    J. W. Keyworth
  • I believe the fellow wears stays, and curls his hair with tongs.

    Paul Patoff

    F. Marion Crawford
British Dictionary definitions for tongs


plural noun
a tool for grasping or lifting, consisting of a hinged, sprung, or pivoted pair of arms or levers, joined at one end Also called pair of tongs
Word Origin
plural of Old English tange; related to Old Saxon tanga, Old High German zanga, Old Norse tong


verb (transitive)
to gather or seize with tongs
to curl or style (hair) with curling tongs


(formerly) a Chinese secret society or association, esp one popularly assumed to engage in criminal activities
Word Origin
C20: from Chinese (Cantonese) t'ong meeting place
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
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Word Origin and History for tongs

Old English tange, tang "tongs," from Proto-Germanic *tango (cf. Old Saxon tanga, Old Norse töng, Swedish tång, Old Frisian tange, Middle Dutch tanghe, Dutch tang, Old High German zanga, German Zange), literally "that which bites," from PIE root *dank- "bite" (cf. Sanskrit dasati "biter;" Greek daknein "to bite," dax "biting"). For sense evolution, cf. French mordache "tongs," from mordre "to bite."


"Chinese secret society," 1883, from Cantonese t'ong "assembly hall."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with tongs


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