a signal, especially of alarm, sounded on a bell or bells.
a bell used to sound an alarm.


Origin of tocsin

1580–90; < Middle French < Provençal tocasenh literally, (it) strikes (the) bell, equivalent to toca, 3rd singular present of tocar to strike, touch + senh bell, sign Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tocsin

Contemporary Examples of tocsin

Historical Examples of tocsin

  • Ding-ding-ding-ding it went, a tocsin summoning the assistance of all true sons of Mother Church.

    The Snare

    Rafael Sabatini

  • For a quarter of a century she was the lone watcher on the heights to sound the tocsin of freedom.

  • There was also a big powerful iron sea-tug, the Tocsin, that promised to make better weather of it than any of the others.

    The Seiners

    James B. (James Brendan) Connolly

  • His demand for immediate emancipation fell like a tocsin upon the ears of slaveholders.

  • When the tocsin rings and the men disappear they simply go on.

    The Living Present

    Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

British Dictionary definitions for tocsin



an alarm or warning signal, esp one sounded on a bell
an alarm bell

Word Origin for tocsin

C16: from French, from Old French toquassen, from Old Provençal tocasenh, from tocar to touch + senh bell, from Latin signum
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 tocsin

"alarm bell," 1580s, from Middle French toquassen "an alarm bell, the ringing of an alarm bell" (late 14c.), from Old Provençal tocasenh, from tocar "to strike" (from Vulgar Latin *toccare "strike a bell;" see touch) + senh "bell, bell note," from Late Latin signum "bell, ringing of a bell," in Latin "mark, signal." The current English spelling is from 1794, adopted from modern French.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper