Music. an acoustical frequency that is higher in frequency than the fundamental.
an additional, usually subsidiary and implicit meaning or quality: an aesthetic theory with definite political overtones.

Origin of overtone

1865–70; translation of German Oberton. See over-, tone

Synonyms for overtone

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for overtone

Historical Examples of overtone

  • When the second overtone is blown (Fig. 136, 3) a third node forms.

    How it Works

    Archibald Williams

  • The second overtone requires three nodes, as in Fig. 137, 3.

    How it Works

    Archibald Williams

  • Kenmore, in the light of its past, sounds an overtone of romance.

    Historic Fredericksburg

    John T. Goolrick

  • “The pineapple ice is the twelfth overtone,” replied Mr. Dubbe.

    The So-called Human Race

    Bert Leston Taylor

  • Vincent kept silence, pondering every tone and overtone of the remark.

    The Brimming Cup

    Dorothy Canfield Fisher

British Dictionary definitions for overtone



(often plural) additional meaning or nuanceovertones of despair
music acoustics any of the tones, with the exception of the fundamental, that constitute a musical sound and contribute to its quality, each having a frequency that is a multiple of the fundamental frequencySee also harmonic (def. 7), partial (def. 6)
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 overtone

1867, in literal sense, from over + tone (n.); a loan-translation of German Oberton, first used by German physicist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894) as a contraction of Overpartialton "upper partial tone." Figurative sense of "subtle implication" is from 1890, first attested in writings of William James.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

overtone in Science



See under harmonic.
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