Definition of tongue in English:



  • 1The fleshy muscular organ in the mouth of a mammal, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech.

    • ‘The discovery of a specific taste receptor on the human tongue for glutamates in 2000 legitimized its existence as a basic flavor.’
    • ‘A bundle of muscles extends from the floor of the mouth to form the tongue.’
    • ‘Swallowing, which is accomplished by muscle movements in the tongue and mouth, moves the food into the throat, or pharynx.’
    • ‘In severe cases, oral herpes causes sores that spread from the lips to the inside of the mouth, along the tongue and cheeks to the back of the throat.’
    • ‘The seal has a big, fat, fleshy tongue and nostrils and a larynx very much like ours.’
    • ‘To take an oral reading, place the thermometer in the child's mouth under the tongue.’
    • ‘The oral cavity with the tongue, the pharynx and esophagus constitute the swallowing organ.’
    • ‘As you fall into a deep sleep, the muscles in your tongue, throat and roof of your mouth relax.’
    • ‘You put them in your mouth at bedtime to keep your tongue and jaw forward during sleep.’
    • ‘In a swallow, the tongue presses the bolus into the pharynx.’
    • ‘Patients are also at risk for cancers of the brain, lung, stomach, tongue, and melanoma of the eye, and leukemia.’
    • ‘Common sites for barbell-style jewelry are the ear, eyebrow, tongue, and navel.’
    • ‘This deficiency is associated with anemia, a sore mouth and tongue and poor growth and spinal cord problems in newborn children.’
    • ‘Cool water dribbled on his lips, and he opened his mouth, moistening his tongue and swallowing.’
    • ‘Call your doctor if you have sores in your mouth, on your tongue, or on your lips.’
    • ‘It took three swallows for her tongue and throat to start working again.’
    • ‘The digestive system includes the mouth, teeth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, and intestines.’
    • ‘The tongue and mucous membranes lose their glistening appearance and the buccal mucosa becomes sticky.’
    • ‘The most serious symptom is the swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, face and throat.’
    • ‘Look out for vomit blocking the airway and check that the patient has not swallowed their tongue.’
    1. 1.1The equivalent organ in other vertebrates, sometimes used (in snakes) as a scent organ or (in chameleons) for catching food.
      • ‘During the ascent it smartly taps the bark, prising off fragments and frequently extracting food from crevices with the tip of its sticky tongue.’
      • ‘Dramatic decreases are believed to occur when tissues under the tongues of green frogs become inflamed and are sloughed.’
      • ‘Like pangolins, aardvarks have a long, protrusile tongue and a gizzard-like stomach.’
      • ‘Their bills are adapted for removing seeds from cones, and they start at the bottom of a cone and spiral upward, prying open each scale and removing the seeds with their tongues.’
      • ‘Instead, they transfer compounds from their tongues into two elaborate sensory receptors known as the vomeronasal organs.’
      • ‘These snakes are roughly cylindrical, and if their small forked tongues didn't flick in and out, it would be hard to tell one end from the other.’
      • ‘Geese, of course, do not rely on this tongue for getting food into the mouth, so the hyoid apparatus tends to be simple, but powerful.’
      • ‘When collecting seeds to cache, a bird can store as many as 90 seeds in a pouch behind its tongue.’
      • ‘Although their tongues are large, they do not protrude them beyond the threshold of the jaws.’
      • ‘In most vertebrates the hyoid supports the tongue, as it does in the snake-necked turtle.’
      • ‘They feed mainly on leaves of acacia and mimosa, using their 450mm extendable tongues and mobile lips to secure their food.’
      • ‘White many other kinds of lizards can extend their tongues to seize small prey, only chameleons have evolved a powerful suction device: a pouch on the lingual tip.’
      • ‘The tongue contacts the food item forcefully, pushing it down into the papillae, maximizing the area of contact.’
      • ‘It actually functions as a tongue and sends food down the fish's throat.’
      • ‘In all squamates, including iguanians, the tongue is also used for vomeronasal chemoreception.’
      • ‘Recent modeling studies have focused on systems such as vertebrate jaws, limbs, tongues and tentacles and axial muscle.’
      • ‘Similarly, control of the anuran tongue is achieved largely through its mechanical relationship with the lower jaw.’
      • ‘Dissection of chameleon tongues revealed an elastic collagen tissue sandwiched between the tongue bone and the accelerator muscle.’
      • ‘Parents carry plankton to the chick in a pouch under their tongue.’
      • ‘When snakes flick their tongues in and out, they pick up chemical cues from the air, which they transfer to a sensory organ in the roof of the mouth.’
    2. 1.2An analogous organ in insects, formed from some of the mouthparts and used in feeding.
    3. 1.3[mass noun]The tongue of an ox or lamb as food.
      ‘a galantine of tongue’
      • ‘For supper we'd have things that people would never dream of eating now, like cold tongue or herrings' roe on toast.’
      • ‘A Chilean Merlot or a decent Beaujolais is the best partner for liver, tongue, sausage and ham.’
      • ‘These were duly consumed by the 160 residents, together with ham and tongue and 500 fancy cakes.’
      • ‘I try desperately not to cringe when offered tongue, frog's legs and pig's trotters, and I eat them, every time.’
      • ‘At 2.39 leva the Stara Planina salad is a slightly less ostentatious plate of tongue, sausage, tomato, cheese and olives.’
      • ‘Just like potato chips, crackers, pickled eggs, popcorn and tongue, les pattes de porc are designed to leave you begging for beer.’
      • ‘If you're not in the sandwich mood, they do have other items on the menu, including pork tongue with a red pepper sauce which was quite tasty.’
      • ‘But don't forget oxtail and tongue, both of which will probably need to be ordered specially.’
      • ‘Add tongue; simmer for three to four hours or until tender.’
      • ‘I had braised beef tongue with ragout of porcini mushroom and white beans, with a soft poached egg laid on top.’
      • ‘Soak tongue in cold running water for three to four hours.’
      • ‘These berries are considered to be a fine accompaniment for buffalo steaks or tongue, an affinity which accounts for their common name.’
      • ‘The statement also said the latest cases were likely caused by the consumption of tainted pork tongue in jelly.’
      • ‘It might be impossible to move an entire case of tongue or oxtail or side of lamb unless the person requesting it buys at least half.’
      • ‘Perhaps horse would do, or tongue, or pork, or some sort of bird.’
      • ‘Cut the beef tongue and foie gras into six slices and reserve.’
      • ‘No word on what he thought of such delicacies as the black pepper donuts and the Kobe beef tongue.’
      • ‘Pound per metric pound, it's cheaper to buy rump steak than it is pork tongue.’
      • ‘Stir in the remaining pork tongue, chili paste and miso.’
      • ‘We were served salad, tongue, filled peppers and that's where I stopped.’
  • 2[in singular] Used in reference to a person's style or manner of speaking.

    ‘he was a redoubtable debater with a caustic tongue’
    • ‘Jesters of the past, though figures of fun at the royal court, were often highly intelligent men whose quick wit and sharp tongue both diverted the monarch and reminded him of his mortality.’
    • ‘I cannot let Aoife's caustic tongue spoil this experience for me.’
    • ‘A caustic wit, a penetrating eye, a stiletto tongue that enjoyed drawing blood, she wasn't everyone's cup of tea.’
    • ‘She had a distaste for the world and she showed it with a general lack of emotion and sharp tongue laced with venomous words.’
    • ‘When something about the magic act goes wrong, a glib tongue and a humorous manner can do much to gloss over the slip so that people do not notice that anything is amiss.’
    manner of speaking, way of speaking, manner of talking, way of talking, form of expression, mode of expression, choice of words, verbal expression
    View synonyms
    1. 2.1[count noun]A particular language.
      ‘the girls were singing in their native tongue’
      • ‘Most of the passengers cannot speak each other's native tongues and so virtually all of the dialogue is in English.’
      • ‘None of the inhabitants spoke French as a native tongue, and few understood it.’
      • ‘Modern walkers love to travel, and many long for the diversion of strange lands and foreign tongues.’
      • ‘About 7 or 8 percent also speak an Amerindian language as their native tongue.’
      • ‘The drive has to come from the students who choose to speak their native tongue instead of a language that everyone understands.’
      • ‘It is presently marketed in the native tongues of Germany, Japan, Brazil, France, Holland and Argentina, and in English in most western European countries.’
      • ‘They shout in strange tongues - not English, not Hindi.’
      • ‘English language became the fashionable tongue, and Welsh native arts went into decline.’
      • ‘Along with Czech and Polish, it is classified as a western Slavic tongue in the Indo-European language family.’
      • ‘They converse in strange tongues, using words and expressions that are totally alien to me.’
      • ‘Some of us learned the lesson quickly and laughed at our classmates who were less adept at English and slow to drop their native tongues.’
      • ‘For example, many of the research labs are staffed by Asians who prefer to speak in their native tongues.’
      • ‘Then we heard several men's voices at once, speaking in a strange tongue, with the same flat, broad tone, and I heard for the first time the native speech of the Danes.’
      • ‘For Bulgarians, it's the chance to practice delivering lines not in your native tongue - and to mingle with drama enthusiasts from other lands.’
      • ‘East Timor comes across as a series of lands within a land, with different tongues and customs.’
      • ‘Between the four soldiers in the back of the Land Rover there are four languages, Nepalese and English are common tongues and there are two caste languages which they don't all understand.’
      • ‘The Chamorros and Carolinians are largely multilingual, speaking their native tongues, English, and Japanese.’
      • ‘None of the crossover Scandinavian rockers sing in their native tongues, but Sweden's biggest band does.’
      • ‘There are several local tongues, like the language of my people, the Hehe, and the official language Swahili, and English.’
      • ‘It is used by more people than any other language, mostly as a second language, not a native tongue.’
      language, dialect, patois, vernacular, mother tongue, native tongue, jargon, argot, cant, pidgin, creole, lingua franca
      View synonyms
  • 3A thing resembling or likened to a tongue, in particular.

    • ‘Some of these plants resemble Venus flytraps, while others look like large eggplants to which protruding tongues have been attached.’
    • ‘In spring it blooms loose, yellow, exotic tongues.’
    • ‘Forked tongues of lightning flashed and sheets upon sheets of rain fell.’
    • ‘The safety strap consisted of two tongues of leather snapped together at the back of the slide.’
    1. 3.1A long, low promontory of land.
      • ‘The Wakhan, a tongue of land in Afghanistan's north-east, touches China.’
      • ‘Marshy tongues of land determined property lines more than geometric principles of land settlement.’
      • ‘Like York, the commercial focus developed on a tongue of land between two rivers.’
      • ‘Beneath the cries of curlews, low tongues of land balance precariously between sea and marsh.’
      promontory, headland, point, head, foreland, cape, peninsula, bluff, ness, naze, horn, spit
      View synonyms
    2. 3.2A jet of flame.
      ‘a tongue of flame flashed from the gun’
      • ‘The result was quite spectacular, as huge tongues of flame would shoot out of the openings, much like lava from an erupting volcano.’
      • ‘These people must have been chased by the roaring tongues of flames that caught them here.’
      • ‘Trees, rocks and soil had all been uprooted, and flickering tongues of flame dotted the landscape.’
      • ‘The moment the blade touched it, it flared into flame, sending tongues of fire up the blade.’
      • ‘From time to time, the wind changed direction so that you had to leap back to avoid a sudden tongue of flame curling back towards you.’
      • ‘She sat on the other side of the fire, gazing at me through the tongues of yellow flame.’
      • ‘We know there was a gush of wind and tongues of flame flickering over the heads of the apostles.’
      • ‘Black smoke rolled in heavy clouds; flames rose in great tongues to the sky - the water was covered with black oil.’
      • ‘The fire crackled in the night as tongues of flames licked the underside of the fish roasting on the spit.’
      • ‘Even the garden was engulfed by mocking, dancing tongues of flame.’
      • ‘Huge tongues of flames, the source of which is disputed, licked the last traces of life from the once flourishing township.’
      • ‘I still hear the screams of terrified people through the hissing of fire, still see tongues of flame rear high into a night sky, darkened even more by heavy black smoke.’
      • ‘Flames like tongues of fire engulfed the farmhouse, porch and all, angry, cracking flames that left no exit.’
      • ‘The logs in the fireplace snapped with thick orange and red tongues of flame, spreading warmth through my living room, along with light, now that the power had gone out.’
      • ‘Bright tongues of flame jumped high into the sky, trying to lick the clouds.’
      • ‘Two minutes later, Watson was back, looking over at the window, where tongues of flame were licking up the curtain.’
      • ‘Pieces of it litter the ground, lit by bright tongues of flame.’
      • ‘His head rolled a little to the side, and he found himself staring into the roaring fire, captivated by the flickering golden tongues of flame.’
      • ‘The fire by this time had conquered all before it, and at seven o'clock in the morning the roof fell in with a terrible crash, shooting up into the sky fierce tongues of fire and myriads of burning sparks.’
      • ‘In a Pentecost scene an apostle at the rear of the group was raising his arm to fend off the tongue of flame, like a man attacked by a bee.’
    3. 3.3A strip of leather or fabric under the laces in a shoe, attached only at the front end.
      • ‘So we added more cushioning protection with a zoom air sock liner and we added a little more padding to the tongue which didn't take away from the aesthetics or the heritage of the shoe.’
      • ‘If after tying the shoe, less than an inch of the tongue shows, the shoes are probably too wide.’
      • ‘This site suggests baby powder, between the tongue and the upper or, if you can peel it back, beneath the inner sole.’
      • ‘This pair of shoes features contrast stitching and textures, a removable padded tongue and comfortable rubber sole.’
      • ‘At breakfast, he's wearing shoes with enormous tongues, loose-fitting trousers and an oversized shirt.’
      • ‘Different models of the shoe had different pump systems, which were integrated into the tongue of the shoe.’
      • ‘The buckle has a cast pewter frame with a hinge element between the buckle sides, and both the tongue and strap were attached to the center bar.’
      • ‘Thanks to an elastic band that connects the shoe's tongue to the sidewalls and a heel cup with a notch for your Achilles tendon, the fit is superb.’
      • ‘And did I mention the padded tongues and the air in the sole?’
      • ‘What's stupider, putting extra tongues in your shoes or trying to skate in extra-tight women's pants?’
    4. 3.4The free-swinging metal piece inside a bell which is made to strike the bell to produce the sound.
      • ‘The tongue of the bell should weigh 1/20 the weight of the bell.’
      • ‘To this the young devotees made their way, and after fastening cords to the bell's tongue they tossed ropes to their aiders and abettors below.’
      • ‘Here, he refers to the swinging of a bell in which the lip, arch, or "bow" of the bell rises up to one side, and then meets the bell's "tongue," or chime.’
    5. 3.5The pin of a buckle.
    6. 3.6A projecting strip on a wooden board fitting into a groove on another.
      • ‘Tongue and groove boards are installed perpendicular to the furring strips, and are either face-nailed or blind-nailed through the tongues.’
      • ‘Engage the tongue and grooves of the tiles as you lay them next to each other, but don't slide them into place.’
      • ‘Her tread shook the very tongues in their grooves.’
      • ‘It is placed between the tongue and grooves of every plank.’
      • ‘With a cedar floor, installation consists of interlocking tongues and grooves and fastening the material to the floor.’
      • ‘The last piece, next to the intersecting wall, should be cut to size and its tongue slipped into the groove of the adjacent board.’
      • ‘Then remove the board and spread carpenter's glue on the tongues and grooves of the new and old pieces.’
      • ‘Starting with the tongue of the board, place the fabric top over the batting and layers and continue to the end of the board.’
      • ‘A partner helps secure the board while the nailer bends backward pushing the groove hard onto the tongue with one hand and driving the nail in with the other.’
      • ‘Also chisel off the tongue of the board protruding into the space.’
      • ‘When you put a laminate floor in the bathroom, use a little bit of glue on the tongue and on the groove just to make sure we have a really tight, moisture-proof seal.’
      • ‘Rather, insert the tongue into the groove and adjust into final position.’
    7. 3.7The vibrating reed of a musical instrument or organ pipe.


  • 1Music
    Sound (a note) distinctly on a wind instrument by interrupting the air flow with the tongue.

    ‘Eugene has worked out the correct tonguing’
  • 2Lick or caress with the tongue.

    ‘the other horse tongued every part of the colt's mane’
    • ‘Whether you've got two front teeth or ten, the shiny, happy, I-just-left-the-dentist's office feeling will have you tonguing the backs and fronts of your teeth all day.’
    • ‘She smiled at his playfulness and bit into an apple, tonguing a bit of sweet juice that threatened to run down the side of her lip.’
    • ‘She spots Bruno staring at her, and gives him a ‘come-on’ look while provocatively tonguing her ice cream cone.’
    • ‘I can't help myself; I tongue the cylinder, trying to suck food from an invisible cavity.’
    • ‘She tongued the inside of her cheek and tasted blood.’
    • ‘A hippo, you know, tongues you to death, you know what I mean?’
    • ‘But I can feel it lurking, like an irritating piece of meat stuck in your back teeth that you keep tonguing but can't get out.’
    • ‘They fire off blasts of shockwave soul-punk that makes you feel like you just tongued an electrical socket.’
    • ‘In some ways, the whole process feels like tonguing a bad tooth when you're too scared of going to the dentist.’
    • ‘Butterflies feast on her delicate wares: one hangs upside-down on wispy legs as it tongues a rosebud.’


  • find (or lose) one's tongue

    • Be able (or unable) to express oneself after a shock.

      ‘she found her tongue and shakily voiced her only fear’
      ‘lost your tongue?’
      • ‘Carson stood stuttering for a moment, and then suddenly found his tongue.’
      • ‘I quickly found my tongue and responded indignantly.’
      • ‘He was able to find his tongue again and struggle out a simple thank you to the elderly woman.’
      • ‘Morgan finally found his tongue, and called out after her.’
      • ‘After a moment's pause, Louise found her tongue.’
      • ‘Rena slowly enters the elevator, and when the doors close behind her she finds her tongue.’
      • ‘Only after he escorted her onto the dance floor did she find her tongue.’
      • ‘I think it's time I proved to myself and to those around me that I haven't lost my tongue just yet.’
      • ‘The allegation stunned us all but Hayley managed to find her tongue before Terry and me.’
      • ‘By the time she finally found her tongue, he had dragged her half the length of the alley.’
  • get one's tongue round

    • Pronounce (words)

      ‘she found it very difficult to get her tongue round the unfamiliar words’
      • ‘She struggles to get her tongue round the words.’
      • ‘But way back, when I was a baby, and Jo a toddler, she could never manage to get her tongue round Tobias, and the nearest she ever got to it was Tabby.’
      • ‘No, they used the local equivalent to Cockney slang and it took me quite a while to get my tongue round it.’
      • ‘As I had only been learning Spanish for 2 years at University in Scotland, I hadn't quite got my tongue round the lingo.’
      • ‘Maori names can be difficult to get your tongue round and my mind blends similar names into one.’
      • ‘Tina's Chinese, but she was born and raised in England and in fact she's more of an English rose, she only recently managed to get her tongue round Hong Kong's Cantonese.’
      • ‘I was still at school when it came out, we all knew the lyrics then, but I can't get my tongue round them now.’
      • ‘This was extraordinary behaviour, as she was not academic, and yet her ability to get her tongue round the unfamiliar words was the best in the class.’
      • ‘Although we are still trying to get our tongue round the names of the food and drink, the restaurant offers good value and competently executed cooking, and style to aspire to.’
      • ‘I could not get my tongue around the sounds of that beautiful language.’
  • the gift of tongues

    • The power of speaking in unknown languages, regarded as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

      • ‘For many at Corinth and other Pauline cities, being moved by the Spirit meant having the gift of tongues or miracles or healing or prophecy.’
      • ‘If there was no Scripture translated into that language, might God grant the gift of tongues to a missionary so that the people would be able to hear the gospel?’
      • ‘This descent was marked by the gift of tongues, and St. Peter is recorded in Acts as seeing in this the new dispensation that had been prophesied by Joel.’
      • ‘Having said this it is important to distinguish between the gift of tongues when revealed in private between only the person and God, or the gift when revealed in the presence of many.’
      • ‘Love mandates that all utterances be interpreted for the community, so that the gift of tongues will no longer divide God's church, but will instead contribute to its unity in Christ.’
  • give tongue

    • 1(of hounds) bark, especially on finding a scent.

      ‘the dogs spotted him and gave tongue’
      • ‘The unseen hounds gave tongue; the clamor of the beaters grew louder.’
      1. 1.1Express one's feelings or opinions freely.
        ‘her mother stood behind her, giving tongue: ‘He's got you on the end of a string, that fellow!’’
  • keep a civil tongue in one's head

    • Speak politely.

      • ‘When he's ready to keep a civil tongue in his head and email me an apology, he's welcome back.’
      • ‘Second, you are to keep a civil tongue in your head especially when addressing your peers.’
      • ‘And you'll keep a civil tongue in your head until we're all through with each other.’
      • ‘You keep a civil tongue in your head young man!’
      • ‘Please sir, keep a civil tongue in your head and behave like a gentleman.’
      • ‘I know you're eager to prove John's worth but do try to keep a civil tongue in your head.’
      • ‘I hardly know what to say, given this new and unfamiliar policy of keeping a civil tongue in my head.’
      • ‘You'll keep a civil tongue in your head if you know what's good for you, boy.’
      • ‘I don't care if the other countries do it - you're not living in another country, you're living in this one, and as long as you do I'll expect you to keep a civil tongue in your head.’
  • (with) tongue in cheek

    • Speaking or writing in an ironic or insincere way.

      ‘one suspects that he is writing with tongue in cheek’
      ‘his tongue is still tucked firmly in his cheek’
      • ‘The question was rather tongue in cheek, but it certainly provoked conversation.’
      • ‘My own favourite notice from the same era was one written by my Oxford College authorities, doubtless with tongue in cheek.’
      • ‘I'm not really a fan, I don't find him that funny, so I was a little dubious about it, but it was great, very camp, cheesy and tongue in cheek!’
      • ‘If that last comment was intended to be tongue in cheek, the others certainly were not.’
      • ‘The trouble with me is most of the things I say are tongue in cheek, very flippant.’
      • ‘I know I've been talking about the collapse of Japanese society recently, but it was tongue in cheek.’
      • ‘An uncle of Niamh and Peter heard the youngsters playing and said, initially with tongue in cheek, that they should make a CD.’
      • ‘The topic was chosen to some extent with tongue in cheek, not least because neither I nor my audience would be around in 800 years to verify the accuracy of my predictions.’
      • ‘Certainly his comments about correct spelling and grammer must be tongue in cheek.’
      • ‘Remarks like that, no doubt tongue in cheek, are unlikely to calm things.’
      playful, in jest, joking, jokey, as a joke, tongue in cheek, light-hearted, high-spirited, unserious, facetious, flippant, flip, glib, frivolous, for a laugh
      View synonyms
  • someone's tongue is hanging out

    • Someone is very eager for something.

      ‘I'm going to have a whisky—my tongue's hanging out’
      • ‘We have returned as often as possible and my tongue is hanging out right now.’
      • ‘I'm waiting on a cheque, my tongue is hanging out for this cheque and the list of things to spend it on is getting longer.’
      • ‘I haven't got very far into the book but my tongue is hanging out to learn more about the political scene on Jersey.’
      • ‘After seeing some of the sets, my tongue is hanging out and I am drooling on the keyboard.’
      • ‘My tongue is hanging out looking at these lovely dishes.’
      • ‘There are so many delicious treats that my tongue is hanging out.’


Old English tunge, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch tong, German Zunge, and Latin lingua.