Definition of tonsure in English:



  • 1A part of a monk's or priest's head left bare on top by shaving off the hair:

    ‘his hair is thinning up there—soon he'll have a tonsure like a monk's’
    • ‘His cowl had fallen back, exposing his tonsure.’
    • ‘Peter the Great greatly restricted access to monastic tonsure, thereby virtually barring the nobility from entering the black clergy.’
    • ‘One of the disputed matters might seem absurd to us now: it was the form of the tonsure, the way in which monks shaved the tops of their heads.’
    • ‘In 1943, he completed medical studies and secretly assumed monastic tonsure, receiving the name Anthony.’
    • ‘My hair was long as it always had been; our order didn't endorse tonsures, thank God.’
    • ‘His dark hair lay cropped close to his head like a monk's tonsure and his small black eyes sat deep within their sockets like tiny pieces of coal buried in a lump of snow.’
    • ‘His hairstyle also reminds me of a tonsure, and his monkish qualities include withdrawal from Earth and earthly delights; his commission and starship serve as a monastery.’
    1. 1.1[in singular] An act of shaving the top of a monk's or priest's head as a preparation for entering a religious order:
      ‘he received the tonsure’
      • ‘At that time Nimmyo's mother, Dowager Empress Saga, took the tonsure and entered a temple.’
      • ‘Yet Jacques Daret had been tutored as a child and was a trained cleric who received his tonsure from the bishop of Cambrai in 1423.’


[WITH OBJECT]often as adjective tonsured
  • Give a tonsure to:

    ‘Louis's half-brothers were tonsured and sent away to monasteries’
    • ‘It's survived in a very peculiar form, with the so-called monks are actually married and have their hair long, unlike in the South where they're tonsured, and they wear civilian clothes but with the robes just over the tops of them.’
    • ‘Buddhist monks shaved the heads of ceremony leaders, while many other Dalits arrived having already tonsured their heads.’
    • ‘To avoid suspicion, he tonsured his head, shaved his beard and moustache and even trimmed his eyebrows.’
    • ‘The monk's hair was tonsured and probably cropped to control lice.’
    • ‘Devotees get their head tonsured and offer the hair to the Lord as fulfilment of a vow at Tirumala.’
    • ‘Whilst reading the papers before lunch with some friends, I was asked if I knew what it meant to be tonsured.’
    • ‘Partibhan, who had tonsured his head for his forthcoming film, sported a cap.’
    • ‘They had also brought both sons here to be tonsured for the first time, an important Hindu rite.’
    • ‘Many, like Chen, were tonsured, making official an affiliation that, prior to the war, may have been only an intellectual inclination or a mark of status.’


Late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin tonsura, from tondere shear, clip.