[ ton-suhl ]
/ ˈtɒn səl /
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noun Anatomy.
a prominent oval mass of lymphoid tissue on each side of the throat.
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Origin of tonsil

First recorded in 1595–1605, tonsil is from the Latin word tōnsillae (plural) the tonsils


ton·sil·lar, ton·sil·ar, ton·sil·lar·y [ton-suh-ler-ee], /ˈtɒn səˌlɛr i/, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What are tonsil stones?

Tonsil stones are small yellow or white lumps embedded in the tonsils. They result from bacterial or fungal build-up that forms into a nasty-smelling—but generally—harmless mass.

How do you pronounce tonsil stones?

[ ton-suh l stohnz ]

Where did the term tonsil stones come from?

Tonsil stones are one of several ways in which solid material can build up in the body to form hard masses in soft tissue—the most well-known of these being kidney stones. In the case of tonsil stones, the culprit can be food or strep throat.

The use of the word stone to describe these masses relates to the Latin scientific term, calculus (which means “pebble” or “little stone” and also a source of much pain in high school). Tonsil stones are formally called tonsilloliths, literally “tonsil stones.”

The particular term tonsil stone itself appears in medical literature in the late 19th century, although the phenomenon had been discussed under other names in medical journals as far back as 1800 and certainly experienced long before that.

In addition to mild discomfort, tonsil stones are known to produce a foul smell that causes bad breath and a funky taste in the mouth. Today, tonsil stones may be removed by a doctor or dislodged with the gargling of specialized tonics.

How to use the term tonsil stones

The term tonsil stones is mostly used in formal contexts by patients and doctors, particularly Ear-Nose-Throat physicians and specialist dentists. Some people also like to watch videos of tonsil stones being, um, “popped” on YouTube. Because the internet.

More examples of tonsil stones:

“The removal of tonsil stones — tiny, pebble-like growths that can be popped out of the tonsils — is no exception. It’s a little bit like pimple popping, just inside a throat.”
—Caroline Praderio, Insider, August 2017

“I took the flashlight on my phone and looked in the mirror and saw it…So Thursday night I felt one, and I posted it on my moms Facebook group and within 10 minutes, I had hundreds of comments of tonsil stones and how to get them out and what they were.”
—Kylee Angell quoted by Rae Daniel, KSHB, January 2018


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use tonsil in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for tonsil

/ (ˈtɒnsəl) /

Also called: palatine tonsil either of two small masses of lymphatic tissue situated one on each side of the back of the mouthRelated adjective: amygdaline
anatomy any small rounded mass of tissue, esp lymphatic tissue

Derived forms of tonsil

tonsillar or tonsillary, adjective

Word Origin for tonsil

C17: from Latin tōnsillae (pl) tonsils, of uncertain 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