a drum of American Indian or Asian origin, commonly played with the hands.
a dully repetitious drumbeat or similar sound.

Also tam-tam.

Origin of tom-tom

First recorded in 1685–95, tom-tom is from the Hindi word ṭamṭam Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tom-tom

Historical Examples of tom-tom

  • They would wring her heart as she heard them in the pauses of the tom-tom.

    Things as They Are

    Amy Wilson-Carmichael

  • Muted cornets, banjos and saxophones were wailing out a tom-tom adagio.

    Erik Dorn

    Ben Hecht

  • Her eye searched the room for a weapon, and found an Indian tom-tom club.

    Brand Blotters

    William MacLeod Raine

  • It was as though his head had become a tom-tom in the hands of fate.

    The Pagan Madonna

    Harold MacGrath

  • Now Smee had found the tom-tom, and was at that moment sitting on it.

    Peter and Wendy

    James Matthew Barrie

British Dictionary definitions for tom-tom



a drum associated either with the American Indians or with Eastern cultures, usually beaten with the hands as a signalling instrument
a standard cylindrical drum, normally with one drumhead
a monotonous drumming or beating sound

verb -toms, -tomming or -tommed

(tr) informal to pass (information, esp gossip) around a community very quickly

Word Origin for tom-tom

C17: from Hindi tamtam, of imitative origin
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 tom-tom

1690s, "drum" (originally used in India), from Hindi tam-tam, probably of imitative origin (cf. Sinhalese tamat tama and Malay tong-tong).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper