Definition of tonsure in US 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’
    • ‘My hair was long as it always had been; our order didn't endorse tonsures, thank God.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘His cowl had fallen back, exposing his tonsure.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Peter the Great greatly restricted access to monastic tonsure, thereby virtually barring the nobility from entering the black clergy.’
    • ‘In 1943, he completed medical studies and secretly assumed monastic tonsure, receiving the name Anthony.’
    • ‘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.’
    1. 1.1in 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
  • Shave the hair on the crown of.

    ‘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.’
    • ‘The unsubmerged halves of the smooth stones at the water's edge - covered with patches of dark moss - looked like the tonsured heads of drowned monks.’
    • ‘To avoid suspicion, he tonsured his head, shaved his beard and moustache and even trimmed his eyebrows.’
    • ‘Peruse any illustrated Inferno, and you will find, among the pictured thieves, usurers, murderers, and traitors, numerous tonsured pates, episcopal miters, and papal tiaras.’
    • ‘The second presents Augustine as a tonsured monk in an austere cell, working with a quill on a small book.’
    • ‘Partibhan, who had tonsured his head for his forthcoming film, sported a cap.’
    • ‘Whilst reading the papers before lunch with some friends, I was asked if I knew what it meant to be tonsured.’
    • ‘His name appears beside the picture of a tonsured cleric, twice in a book of hours.’
    • ‘They had also brought both sons here to be tonsured for the first time, an important Hindu rite.’
    • ‘Devotees get their head tonsured and offer the hair to the Lord as fulfilment of a vow at Tirumala.’
    • ‘A tonsured man in red appeared in the open doorway, offering us each a glass of red wine.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Buddhist monks shaved the heads of ceremony leaders, while many other Dalits arrived having already tonsured their heads.’
    • ‘The young kneeling, tonsured figure on the right appears to be a high-ranking ecclesiastic - a canon or dean - whose biretta rests at Christ's bound feet.’
    • ‘The monk's hair was tonsured and probably cropped to control lice.’
    • ‘The essentially Byzantine profile of the woman on the left and the tonsured cleric on the far right act in effect as the donors of a Renaissance altarpiece, linking the viewer and the real world to that of sacred unreality.’
    cut short, cut, clip, trim, snip, shear, shave
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Late Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin tonsura, from tondere ‘shear, clip’.