Definition of tough in English:



  • 1(of a substance or object) strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.

    ‘tough backpacks for climbers’
    • ‘I've sliced them in half, cut away the tough fibres, drizzled them with olive oil, and grilled them.’
    • ‘Wood is a tough material that lasts a long time and is easy to repair.’
    • ‘Wax is a tough moisture barrier, doesn't rot wood or synthetic stocks, and doesn't attract dirt.’
    • ‘The handle is made of G-l0, a tough material favored by tactical knife makers.’
    • ‘He knows just how to make tight leggings, rough, tough leathers and plush cashmere absolutely dazzling.’
    • ‘In early 1943 two American professors discovered that a very tough material could be produced by adding a small amount of wood pulp to water before freezing.’
    • ‘This is moisture resistant and forms a tough coating which can be washed with soap and water.’
    • ‘Polycarbonate is a tough material but not hard.’
    • ‘This bouncy rubber was surprisingly tough stuff.’
    • ‘They are tough enough to withstand being walked on occasionally and will reward the passer-by with perfume released from the crushed foliage.’
    • ‘Occasionally someone would get hit in the foot or leg, but school shoe leather was tough and the last thing you'd do was report any mishaps.’
    • ‘But cement is exceptionally tough and not very porous and its use at Fountains has essentially reversed this process.’
    • ‘African rice is tough enough to fight drought, but many west African farmers abandoned the variety in favour of Asian strains that produce more grains per plant.’
    • ‘If you have ever polished some hard, tough material like metal or marble you know how much energy it takes.’
    • ‘The balls used in boccia are mainly made of tough leather and filled with a grain-like substance.’
    • ‘All of the following clothes are made up of a tough material which should be strong against almost all elements of magic.’
    • ‘The ground began shacking with such great force, not even the lifeless roots obscured in the grey soil were tough enough to hold up their dying masters.’
    • ‘Stainless steel is a tough metal and does not rust, but it's harder to sharpen.’
    • ‘Bags are sent wrapped in tissue, wrapped in recycled plastic, then sealed into a recyclable tough paper mailer bag.’
    • ‘The Aldgate train was the standard London model, built of a tough steel frame upon which aluminium bodywork is bolted firmly down.’
    durable, strong, resilient, resistant, sturdy, rugged, firm, solid, substantial, sound, stout, indestructible, unbreakable, hard, rigid, stiff, inflexible, toughened
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    1. 1.1 (of a person or animal) able to endure hardship or pain; physically robust.
      ‘even at this ripe old age, he's still as tough as old boots’
      • ‘But Duncan came from the generation before the welfare state, when to survive at all you had to be as tough as old boots - and he was.’
      • ‘Football's about tough uncompromising individuals, who bleed real blood, take no prisoners and fight to the very end, yeah?’
      • ‘I am, in fact, either as tough as old boots, or as soft as a particularly fluffy bunny, depending on who you ask, and when.’
      • ‘Though you look delicate you are tough as nails and prone to intricacies…’
      • ‘Another point I make in About Face was that I had learned about war from tough old sergeants and captains who had fought the big war.’
      • ‘To be fair to him, he's as tough as old boots and he just galloped to the line.’
      • ‘Happily, Russian skaters tend to be tough as old boots.’
      • ‘Cosmopolitans, not tough pioneers, they lacked the grit required to face the hardships of frontier life.’
      • ‘It was strange because in contrast my Nan was as tough as old boots; she just had a tendency to say insane things.’
      • ‘Finally there is the underlying truth that Carol is as tough as old boots, and frankly, as sexy as a Sherman tank.’
      • ‘To have to go through that family scandal and still be a sweet, genuine person - how tough she was to endure that.’
      • ‘However, the tough Belgian was able to recover enough to catch the pack and hand with the grupetto on the final climb.’
      • ‘It then turned out that my grandad is as tough as old boots, and probably just wanted to take attention away from me getting a job.’
      • ‘He's a tough old bastard, and he's pulled through things like this before.’
      • ‘He was strong and brave, a happy-go-lucky person but also tough and able to live on his own.’
      • ‘Many of them have led hard lives already, and they are tough, angry and unforgiving.’
      • ‘She may be tough and indifferent on the outside but I could see that deep inside she was experiencing tremendous pain and sorrow.’
      • ‘And, you know, he was a tough priest who was sympathetic, but you know, I think he was used to tragedy.’
      • ‘They are a tough, resilient and uncomplaining people (as I saw first hand in the casualty areas in 1974).’
      • ‘‘Reg is a real fighter by nature, he is as tough as old boots and will not give in,’ said Linn.’
      resilient, strong, hardy, gritty, determined, resolute, dogged, stalwart
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    2. 1.2 Able to protect one's own interests or maintain one's own opinions without being intimidated by opposition; confident and determined.
      ‘she's both sensitive and tough’
      • ‘The girls were very tough and demonstrated their excellent skills and the only fair decision after three great rounds was a draw.’
      • ‘Brunson is a tough defender and solid passer, attributes coach Bill Cartwright seeks.’
      • ‘In any case, with Beeching reluctant to play the game and with Marples determined to be tough, it was difficult to predict which lines would be spared in advance.’
      • ‘Unwilling Accomplice is the story of two violent criminals on the run and the tough young woman who outwits them.’
      • ‘He is smart, tough and instinctual, but a lack of speed hurts him in coverage.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, co-star Jolie is perfectly suited as the tough, intelligent young lady who can pierce anybody with a silent stare.’
      • ‘A tough demeanor was required, but it wasn't innate as his reputation might lead us to think.’
      • ‘Lincou is a muscular, tough player who likes to occupy the center of the court, causing his opponents to run around him.’
      • ‘Braham is a smart, tough leader, but he lacks the athleticism to be a full-time starter.’
      • ‘I saw the older men trying to demonstrate they were still tough and able.’
      • ‘Driver 2 is equally tough, but at least this time the missions aren't impossibly hard from the very outset.’
      • ‘Clarence Moore fills various roles, from perimeter shooter to tough defender to solid rebounder.’
      • ‘The women lost their first two conference matches to tough opponents.’
      • ‘A track for tough cars and tough drivers, it tests every component and every sinew to the limit and few pass with flying colours.’
      • ‘He then fought and won a hard match with the tough Mr. D. to take back his crown.’
      • ‘She needed to be tough, and sympathy would only throw her off guard.’
      • ‘Maybe with the emergence of young, tough defenders such as Chris Gbandi that will change.’
      • ‘Despite losing his round to an older competitor the tough tot's family said he would not be deterred.’
      • ‘Brees is smart, tough and had the confidence of his teammates after leading them to 20 wins over the last two years.’
      • ‘She is young and tough, the servants respect her, and everything is in impeccable order.’
    3. 1.3 Demonstrating a strict and uncompromising attitude or approach.
      ‘police have been getting tough with drivers’
      ‘tough new laws on tobacco advertising’
      • ‘If criminal activity is taking place we will take a tough approach to drive it from our streets.’
      • ‘But Blunkett's tough approach to social reform could only be argued by a minister free of personal distractions.’
      • ‘The Government was positioning itself nicely to run a campaign based on its tough approach to dealing with asylum seekers.’
      • ‘The move is designed to streamline the prosecution of people who make false claims, and forms part of the companies' new, tough approach.’
      • ‘Maintain a tough zero-tolerance approach against graffiti in most locations.’
      • ‘Colchester police have launched a new tough approach on people begging in the town, which a spokesman said should solve the problem faced by shopkeepers.’
      • ‘This appraisal is as tough, uncompromising and brutally simplistic as many of Brogden's law-and-order policies.’
      • ‘They're very tough on executive privilege in general, and on the flow of information more broadly than that.’
      • ‘The reason for the low turnout could be that the authorities' tough approach scared people away.’
      • ‘He attempted to appease the nasty wing of his own party by being tough on immigrants, while pretending that his proposals were liberal and sensible.’
      • ‘He is every bit as tough on his Conservative and Liberal Democrat interviewees as he is on New Labour and its supporters.’
      • ‘North Yorkshire Police said that while they were not holding a specific campaign this summer, they would still be tough on drink-drivers.’
      • ‘It was in that role that Howard chiselled out a reputation for being tough and uncompromising.’
      • ‘The noises coming from the ombudsman's office suggest the guidance, which is currently being written, will be fairly tough on companies.’
      • ‘So some organisations, very good retail organisations in terms of discerned as being successful, are quite tough on those sorts of issues.’
      • ‘As it developed, the Court took a tough approach to applying the law, and did not permit many restrictive agreements.’
      • ‘The ombudsman does take a tough investigative approach to claims that people did not understand what they were buying.’
      • ‘As we keep learning the hard way, efficient markets require tough regulators.’
      • ‘We'll be tough on fraud, and there is fraud, and we have to go after it.’
      • ‘Many thought so and believed that New Zealand, a tough and uncompromising side would provide a much sterner examination.’
      strict, stern, severe, hard, harsh, firm, hard-hitting, adamant, inflexible, unyielding, unbending, uncompromising, unsentimental, unsympathetic
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    4. 1.4 (of a person) strong and prone to violence.
      ‘tough young teenagers’
      • ‘Gilbart was still very strong and tough - the bulging muscles and calloused hands proved this.’
      • ‘While all agree he is tough and prone to losing his temper, there is almost universal respect for his abilities as a soldier.’
      • ‘About a moment after he left two tough and very heartless-looking guards walked in.’
      • ‘Sarah was a tough girl, muscular even, very strong and with a real hot temperament.’
      • ‘Mr. R. was a big, burly tough guy who melted when he had to give his girls away.’
      • ‘A group of teenagers thinking they were tough, accosted us in an alley.’
      • ‘He looks like a tough young man to me… Just wondering here, William, but who exactly are these kids?’
      • ‘That sure as heck wasn't what a tough guy like Solid Snake would do.’
      • ‘New Russian is a euphemism for black-market pimp, smuggler, gangster, any tough young man with capitalist cash, and there are lots of them.’
      • ‘Hollywood sells tough men, beautiful women, simple storylines and violence.’
      • ‘Given those credentials, the character cries out for an old-school tough guy approach.’
      • ‘Sadly, teams require tough guys or enforcers to keep the opposition honest.’
      • ‘Carl gathered that the man was trying to compensate for the obvious lack of prestige with a tough guy attitude.’
      • ‘Even the ones who looked like tomorrow's tough teenagers were evincing childlike delight.’
      • ‘Galvin's characters jump off the page at you whether he is describing a tough young cop like Fox or ‘Beano’ his snout.’
      • ‘But let us go back to the uneven struggle between a tough, young yob and a frail pensioner.’
      • ‘In my mind, I saw the tough young man I had met in the cathedral that night.’
      • ‘Outside the town centre pubs, tough young men and women in vests, jeans and tattoos were giving each other the thumbs up and cackling with glee.’
      • ‘He was a tall, muscular man, obviously tough and afraid of nothing.’
      • ‘Here she's at her best, in a part that requires her to be tough and crude, a relentless force of pure ego.’
      rough, rowdy, unruly, disorderly, violent, wild, lawless, lawbreaking, criminal
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    5. 1.5 (of an area) notorious for violence and crime.
      • ‘Yet, it's a vehicle for tough people venturing into tough areas.’
      • ‘He comes from a tough area of the country where dairying, in particular, is making great strides.’
      • ‘Brought up the hard way, the Garda believed that for one to become so prominent in such a tough area, there was no doubting Mr Kelly was a highly intelligent man.’
      • ‘He grew up in a single-parent home in a tough area of Virginia Beach and didn't meet his father until two years ago.’
      • ‘This can be a very tough area - yuppies and artists mixing it with the desperate homeless and the families on welfare.’
      • ‘The Bulldogs, based at Belmore in a tough working-class area south-west of Sydney wanted to move to a Liverpool suburb.’
      • ‘The mother of six grew up in Garryowen - a tough area in Limerick City whose rugby club gave the world the term for hoofing the ball in the air and chasing frantically after it.’
      • ‘Although it was a tough estate, there was never any serious trouble.’
      • ‘As to walking through tough bits of town, it's not sympathy I was hoping to elicit for anyone.’
      • ‘So it's a very, very tough area that the marines are facing here.’
      • ‘Mr Galloway was born and brought up in a tough working-class area of Dundee.’
      • ‘When it comes to hard work in tough areas, no one can match him and it's not by accident that Sinn Féin have consistently failed to get a toehold in his area.’
      • ‘His mother had to move her seven children (Cisse is the youngest) from a pleasant country town to a tough estate in Arles.’
      • ‘They were a group of very tough boys from a very tough area.’
      • ‘He has always had his sights set on working as a priest on a tough estate or in a prison.’
      • ‘But these lads are from the inner city with all the dangers and things that go on in tough areas.’
      • ‘Lacy hails from a tough area of St Petersburg in Florida, and he openly admits that if it were not for boxing he could have trod the wrong side of the tracks like two of his brothers who ended up in jail.’
      • ‘But I grew up in a tough area of the East End of London and didn't have it easy.’
      • ‘I have been proud of those ministers in our diocese who have willingly moved into tough areas.’
      • ‘Butch Hays himself came from the tough south central area of Los Angeles.’
      rough, rowdy, unruly, disorderly, violent, wild, lawless, lawbreaking, criminal
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    6. 1.6 (of food, especially meat) difficult to cut or chew.
      • ‘Recipes from regions where tough meat is the norm often call for a marinade made with fruit or juice.’
      • ‘Duck legs have fairly tough meat - the legs are worked hard during their lifespan, making the flesh taut and muscly.’
      • ‘One or two are so contorted that poor old Lawson, who is a consummate professional, looks like he has been compelled to chew on a tough piece of sirloin and then spit it out in public.’
      • ‘Hominids had teeth that resembled those of pigs and bears, which can chew tough, fiber-rich food.’
      • ‘I got used to drinking powdered milk, living off rice and kidney beans, occasionally a bit of tough meat in a stew as a treat.’
      • ‘I've been grazing among the blogs and chewing that question like a tough mouthful of cud.’
      • ‘She chewed on the cooked piece of tough meat that had been in the saddlebag, not pausing to wonder how it had gotten there.’
      • ‘The fruit is tough and prickly on the outside, tender and sweet on the inside.’
      • ‘The lamb cutlet was also tough: though served quite rare, it was uncuttable, unchewable and tasteless.’
      • ‘She says it was slippery and she could not cut it with a knife. She took it in her hand and placed it in her mouth, but the ‘meat’ was so tough she could not bite through it.’
      • ‘The meat was a little tough, but the flavour, infused with lemon, was delicious, a light meat somewhere between lamb and beef.’
      • ‘The meat is still tough and not as palatable as typical American cuisine, but it's also not that bad.’
      • ‘Move those cows too fast and you end up with very fit, very lean, very tough sirloin.’
      • ‘The man brought dry cheese, more water, and a hunk of tough meat that tasted more than a little rancid.’
      • ‘I have a headache, and all I've had to chew on are these infernal, tough pieces of salt meat.’
      • ‘It's best to keep the stems out of most dishes, since all but the newest growth is too tough to chew.’
      • ‘I tried a small pastie that looked safe, but the meat inside was so tough I had to swallow it nearly whole after chewing for a couple of minutes.’
      • ‘The pigs' apprehension about being eaten results in tough meat, which is why pork no longer tastes good.’
      • ‘Rabbits, horses, and elephants chew tough grasses, leaves, and plants.’
      • ‘Most of them are sipping coffee, or reading newspapers, or chewing morosely on tough bread.’
      chewy, leathery, gristly, stringy, fibrous, sinewy, cartilaginous
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  • 2Involving considerable difficulty or hardship; requiring great determination or effort.

    ‘the training has been quite tough’
    ‘he had a tough time getting into a good college’
    • ‘Getting published and earning a bit of critical acclaim to spur on further creative efforts is tough for those starting out.’
    • ‘With a tough run of matches in front of them it was important the Rams remained unbeaten in order to maintain their league position as the critical part of the season comes to fruition.’
    • ‘Getting control of your finances requires tough choices’
    • ‘It was a fair, tough match and the referee had little or nothing to do.’
    • ‘But it was big job, a very tough assignment that required major cultural changes.’
    • ‘It was a tough match, which provided excitement up to the very end with the result being a deserved draw for both sides.’
    • ‘I think acting is tough, as it requires great mental discipline.’
    • ‘I suppose it will follow that pattern, but it will require some very tough work.’
    • ‘It was another historic match, a tough fight between bat and ball, but at the end the target of 313 proved to be a bit too much for the West Indies.’
    • ‘This was a very tough, exciting match and at half time we were down 2 tries.’
    • ‘Also: finishing a tough job requires that you draw your hand theatrically across your brow.’
    • ‘He has had a year off the sport with injury and yet, in a tough, exhausting match, he was everywhere.’
    • ‘These questions require us to make tough decisions about how we distribute our finite resources.’
    • ‘It was a tough match and we're just glad to have come out of it okay.’
    • ‘This is a tough process and will require NASA to make some hard decisions between now and September.’
    • ‘Sure, comedy is tough: it requires actual laughter to prove its value and worth.’
    • ‘This will require tough decisions that cannot be ducked.’
    • ‘‘They are a good side and it will be a tough match,’ he had offered dutifully beforehand, and he wasn't wrong.’
    • ‘They anticipated a tough match and were not disappointed, and despite what the scoreboard might suggest, this was far from a one sided game.’
    • ‘It will be a tough match and to be honest I think Ireland will struggle to win the Championship as Wales have already done the business against both the English and the French.’
    difficult, hard, knotty, thorny, baffling, tricky, ticklish, prickly, perplexing, puzzling, mystifying, troublesome, bothersome, irksome, intractable
    arduous, onerous, difficult, demanding, hard, heavy, taxing, burdensome, tiring, exhausting, punishing, wearying, fatiguing, laborious, strenuous, exacting, troublesome, formidable, stressful, herculean
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    1. 2.1 Used to express sympathy with someone in an unpleasant or difficult situation.
      ‘Poor kid. It's tough on her’
      • ‘And they're geniuses, but it's just eaten them up and spit them out, and it's been tough on them.’
      • ‘I called her every night from New York and I'm sure it was extremely tough on her to hear me, not normally an emotional person, sobbing every night.’
      • ‘It is tough on Maloney that the arduous assignment of a UEFA Cup tie at home to VfB Stuttgart is being billed as if it were the equivalent of finishing school for the player.’
      • ‘One of the worst, as any politician will attest, is that it is very tough on families.’
      • ‘It was tough on Pres Milltown who gave it everything but they just gave St Pats too big a lead and had little luck with marginal decisions.’
      • ‘It was tough on Belmullet who for most of the game had looked to be the better side but McDonagh's late goal knocked the wind out of their sails.’
      • ‘It is tough on her, because everyone puts so much emphasis on the past and right now is the future.’
      • ‘It was tough on the Carlow girls who had put up a sterling second half fight back having trailed by six points at half time.’
      • ‘There's a couple of times where she's gone to school and she's just in floods of tears and yeah it's really tough on them.’
      • ‘It turns out it's a lot of work and very tough on the staff.’
      • ‘Sereana Naikelekele says the situation is tough on all five kids.’
      • ‘It's going to be tough on staff because they wouldn't be home until 3am after an evening meeting.’
      • ‘He said it is very tough on Irish students who need up to 570 points to get medicine and may miss out by just 15 or 20 points.’
      • ‘‘It's been pretty tough on her as she's had a lot of catching up to do but we're trying to get her on the track as quick as we can,’ he said.’
      • ‘The nation's 40th chief executive knew it would be tough on the light of his life.’
      • ‘Both goals were stamped with class but it was tough on City, who hardly warranted being behind by one, never mind two.’
      • ‘He said it was tough on students for whom it was the last day of their exams.’
      • ‘It was tough on Barca but they showed they are learning quickly and can take great heart from their display.’
      • ‘I think it's going to be tough on the mother when that trial comes.’
      • ‘It was tough on the Frenchman, who made no contact with Douglas.’
    2. 2.2[often as exclamation] Used to express a lack of sympathy with someone.
      ‘I feel the way I feel, and if you don't like it, tough’


  • A tough person, especially a gangster or criminal.

    ‘young toughs sporting their state-of-the-art firearms’
    • ‘It was exactly seven days later, under the cover of night, that a gang of toughs attacked my brother Saul.’
    • ‘Gangs of toughs no longer use the shop class for a game of craps.’
    • ‘Tom Powers and Matt Doyle are two young toughs.’
    • ‘I remember one time when a young tough entered the dojo in military uniform saying that he could cross a bokken with anyone.’
    • ‘Three young would be toughs tried to mug him outside his hotel.’
    • ‘In retribution, young toughs from Luay's entourage severely beat and maimed the professor who gave Luay the failing grade and later tried to ambush al-Rawi himself on the street.’
    • ‘They're basically young toughs in these projects, and they're just not responding to any kind of calls for moderation to the violence, not even from their parents, by the way.’
    • ‘Today, Sheen regrets the incident but insists that he never started fights as a young tough but only fought in support of others.’
    • ‘These falsetto-led odes to love and innocence requiring precise singing were born on street corners among gangs of toughs.’
    • ‘He told me he was a young tough from the streets of Chicago who heard God's call to be a soldier of Christ.’
    • ‘‘Just keep on dancing,’ Gavito barks when two macho young toughs start to fight, then grabs a partner and struts his own marvelous stuff.’
    • ‘He didn't want unemployed young toughs handing out street justice.’
    • ‘A great moment early on: confronted by a gang of toughs upon strolling into town, the samurai calmly taunts them.’
    • ‘The three obviously mature gentlemen successfully vanquish a group of unruly young toughs with head butts.’
    • ‘Of course, we could only laugh up our sleeves at the local toughs, eschewing violence as we did.’
    • ‘He loses his barings and is confronted by a young tough, Carter, who demands five dollars for directions.’
    • ‘Joining him are a group of hip, young toughs who thirst for the kind of action that only being a Texas Ranger can offer.’
    • ‘Ki-tae and Cheol-su are a couple of young street toughs looking to get married to the mob.’
    • ‘The gang is comprised of good-bad-but-not-evil young toughs defending their neighborhood against a rival crew seeking to introduce the local urchins to the life-affirming wonders of heroin addiction.’
    • ‘When three young toughs assault a bathhouse customer who owes them money, Master Liu stands up to them with quiet dignity.’
    ruffian, rowdy, thug, hoodlum, hooligan, brute, bully, bully boy, rough, gangster, desperado
    hard man, roughneck, yob, yobbo, heavy, bruiser, tough guy, toughie, gorilla, yahoo
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tough it out
  • Endure a period of hardship or difficulty.

    • ‘I started an octave too high but instead of stopping and beginning again I decided to tough it out and ‘go for it’ by trying to reach the top note of a particularly challenging musical piece.’
    • ‘So I shall tough it out and take comfort in the fact that no-one on the outside (except the occasional former student to whom I make less sense than usual) can tell.’
    • ‘These guys - despite being raised by a monster who supposedly took them on teenage tours of his torture chambers - were patently ill equipped to really tough it out when the chips were down.’
    • ‘We were ultimately offered yet a different suite that was already at a lower temperature, but as it was now after midnight and we'd unpacked a lot of our stuff, we decided to tough it out.’
    • ‘Instead, he tried to use his bully-boy manner and arrogance to tough it out.’
    • ‘We've been trying to tough it out but it's difficult to come together in a short space of time under a new coach.’
    • ‘We always seem to be able to tough it out when things are against us.’
    • ‘Her proposal: to tough it out alone at the campsite while I paddled the four days, 16 lakes, and 15 portages to call for a rescue party at the nearest phone.’
    • ‘Have your pain at home, not in the office; show you can tough it out and play the game.’
    • ‘It seemed clear that the Prime Minister was going to tough it out, hoping, no doubt, that the hoopla over the Olympics would quickly distract the attention of the electors.’
    put up with it, grin and bear it, keep at it, keep going, stay with it, see it through, see it through to the end
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  • a tough nut to crack

  • tough shit (or titty)

    • vulgar slang Used to express a lack of sympathy with someone.


Old English tōh, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch taai and German zäh.