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

Related Words for tocsin

siren, bell, signal, warning, alert, sign, horn

Examples from the Web for tocsin

Contemporary Examples of tocsin

Historical Examples of tocsin

  • The tocsin rang impatiently, but other help (if that were any) there was none.

    A Tale of Two Cities

    Charles Dickens

  • Her motto, "Truth for authority and not authority for truth," is still the tocsin of reform.

  • What priest does not know that tocsin of the night, and the start from peaceful slumbers?

    My New Curate

    P.A. Sheehan

  • Immediately he dreamt that he heard the tocsin and took part in the events of June, 1848.


    Henri Bergson

  • Drums can be heard beating the alarm, and the tocsin peals from the churches.

    The Gods are Athirst

    Anatole France

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