1. Anatomy. the usually movable organ in the floor of the mouth in humans and most vertebrates, functioning in eating, in tasting, and, in humans, in speaking.
  2. Zoology. an analogous organ in invertebrate animals.
  3. the tongue of an animal, as an ox, beef, or sheep, used for food, often prepared by smoking or pickling.
  4. the human tongue as the organ of speech: No tongue must ever tell the secret.
  5. the faculty or power of speech: a sight no tongue can describe.
  6. speech or talk, especially mere glib or empty talk.
  7. manner or character of speech: a flattering tongue.
  8. the language of a particular people, region, or nation: the Hebrew tongue.
  9. a dialect.
  10. (in the Bible) a people or nation distinguished by its language.
  11. tongues, speech, often incomprehensible, typically uttered during moments of religious ecstasy.Compare speaking in tongues, glossolalia.
  12. an object that resembles an animal’s tongue in shape, position, or function.
  13. a strip of leather or other material under the lacing or fastening of a shoe.
  14. a piece of metal suspended inside a bell that strikes against the side producing a sound; clapper.
  15. a vibrating reed or similar structure in a musical instrument, as in a clarinet, or in part of a musical instrument, as in an organ reed pipe.
  16. the pole extending from a carriage or other vehicle between the animals drawing it.
  17. a projecting strip along the center of the edge or end of a board, for fitting into a groove in another board.
  18. a narrow strip of land extending into a body of water; cape.
  19. a section of ice projecting outward from the submerged part of an iceberg.
  20. Machinery. a long, narrow projection on a machine.
  21. that part of a railroad switch that is shifted to direct the wheels of a locomotive or car to one or the other track of a railroad.
  22. the pin of a buckle, brooch, etc.

verb (used with object), tongued, tongu·ing.

  1. to articulate (tones played on a clarinet, trumpet, etc.) by strokes of the tongue.
  2. Carpentry.
    1. to cut a tongue on (a board).
    2. to join or fit together by a tongue-and-groove joint.
  3. to touch with the tongue.
  4. to articulate or pronounce.
  5. Archaic.
    1. to reproach or scold.
    2. to speak or utter.

verb (used without object), tongued, tongu·ing.

  1. to tongue tones played on a clarinet, trumpet, etc.
  2. to talk, especially idly or foolishly; chatter; prate.
  3. to project like a tongue.
  1. find one’s tongue, to regain one’s powers of speech; recover one’s poise: She wanted to say something, but couldn’t find her tongue.
  2. give tongue,
    1. Fox Hunting.(of a hound) to bay while following a scent.
    2. to utter one’s thoughts; speak: He wouldn’t give tongue to his suspicions.
  3. hold one’s tongue, to refrain from or cease speaking; keep silent.
  4. lose one’s tongue, to lose the power of speech, especially temporarily.
  5. on the tip of one’s/the tongue,
    1. on the verge of being uttered.
    2. unable to be recalled; barely escaping one’s memory: The answer was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t think of it.
  6. slip of the tongue, a mistake in speaking, as an inadvertent remark.
  7. (with) tongue in cheek, ironically or mockingly; insincerely.


  1. a movable mass of muscular tissue attached to the floor of the mouth in most vertebrates. It is the organ of taste and aids the mastication and swallowing of food. In man it plays an important part in the articulation of speech soundsRelated adjectives: glottic, lingual
  2. an analogous organ in invertebrates
  3. the tongue of certain animals used as food
  4. a language, dialect, or idiomthe English tongue
  5. the ability to speakto lose one’s tongue
  6. a manner of speakinga glib tongue
  7. utterance or voice (esp in the phrase give tongue)
  8. (plural) See gift of tongues
  9. anything which resembles a tongue in shape or functiona tongue of flame; a tongue of the sea
  10. a promontory or spit of land
  11. a flap of leather on a shoe, either for decoration or under the laces or buckles to protect the instep
  12. music the reed of an oboe or similar instrument
  13. the clapper of a bell
  14. the harnessing pole of a horse-drawn vehicle
  15. a long and narrow projection on a machine or structural part that serves as a guide for assembly or as a securing device
  16. a projecting strip along an edge of a board that is made to fit a corresponding groove in the edge of another board
  17. hold one’s tongue to keep quiet
  18. on the tip of one’s tongue about to come to mindher name was on the tip of his tongue
  19. with one’s tongue in one’s cheek or tongue in cheek with insincere or ironical intent

verb tongues, tonguing or tongued

  1. to articulate (notes played on a wind instrument) by the process of tonguing
  2. (tr) to lick, feel, or touch with the tongue
  3. (tr) carpentry to provide (a board) with a tongue
  4. (intr) (of a piece of land) to project into a body of water
  5. (tr) obsolete to reproach; scold

Old English tunge “organ of speech, speech, language,” from Proto-Germanic *tungon (cf. Old Saxon and Old Norse tunga, Old Frisian tunge, Middle Dutch tonghe, Dutch tong, Old High German zunga, German Zunge, Gothic tuggo), from PIE *dnghwa- (cf. Latin lingua “tongue, speech, language,” from Old Latin dingua; Old Irish tenge, Welsh tafod, Lithuanian liezuvis, Old Church Slavonic jezyku).

For substitution of -o- for -u-, see come. The spelling of the ending of the word apparently is a 14c. attempt to indicate proper pronunciation, but the result is “neither etymological nor phonetic, and is only in a very small degree historical” [OED]. Meaning “foreign language” is from 1530s. Tongue-tied is first recorded 1520s.


“to touch with the tongue, lick,” 1680s, from tongue (n.). Earlier as a verb it meant “drive out by order or reproach” (late 14c.). Related: Tongued; tonguing.


  1. A mobile mass of muscular tissue that is covered with mucous membrane, occupies much of the cavity of the mouth, forms part of its floor, bears the organ of taste, and assists in chewing, swallowing, and speech.

  1. A muscular organ in most vertebrates that is usually attached to the bottom of the mouth. In snakes, the tongue is used as a sense organ. In frogs, the tongue is chiefly used to capture prey. In mammals, the tongue is the main organ of taste and is an important organ of digestion. In humans, the tongue is used to produce speech.
  2. A similar organ in certain invertebrate animals.

In addition to the idioms beginning with tongue

  • tongue hangs out, one’s
  • tongue in cheek, with
  • tongues wag

also see:

  • bite one’s tongue
  • cat got someone’s tongue
  • hold one’s tongue
  • keep a civil tongue
  • on the tip of one’s tongue
  • slip of the lip (tongue)
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