Word Confusion: Tousle versus Tussle

Posted March 17, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 12 October 2017

Someone tousling another’s hair would simply leave it disheveled. Think of it as more of a soft noogie. Meanwhile, a tussle with someone’s hair? Sounds like a battle a hairdresser would do with unruly hair. And it sounds so violent. It would mess up their hair even more.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

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Tousle Tussle
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Pencil drawing by N. Poussin of a man with tousled hair

“Head of a Man with Tousled Hair”, 1794, uploaded by Fæ is under the CC BY 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Two soccer players mixing it up on the field

“James McCarthy Tussle” by Alasdair Middleton from Rothesay, Scotland, was uploaded by kafuffle and is under the CC BY 2.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Noun; Verb, transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: tousles
Past tense or past participle: tousled
Gerund or present participle: tousling

Alternative spelling: touzle

Noun; Verb, intransitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: tussles
Past tense or past participle: tussled
Gerund or present participle: tussling

An act of tousling something, especially hair

  • A tousled mass, especially of hair
  • A disordered, disheveled, or tangled condition

Verb, transitive:
Make something, especially a person’s hair untidy

To disorder or dishevel

To handle roughly

A vigorous, sometimes rough, struggle or scuffle, typically in order to obtain or achieve something

Any vigorous or determined struggle, conflict, etc.
Verb, intransitive:
Engage in such a struggle or scuffle

  • Wrestle
Annie reached up behind his head and gave his hair a tousle.

He’d gently brush back my tousle.

Verb, transitive:
Annie tousled his hair.

Nathan’s tousled head appeared in the hatchway.

The wind tousled our hair.

There was a tussle for the ball.

I had quite a tussle with that chemistry exam.

Verb, intransitive:
The demonstrators tussled with police.

Adjective: tousled
History of the Word:
Late Middle English in the sense of handle roughly or rudely. Expressing frequent repetition or intensity of action, a.k.a., frequentative, of dialect touse meaning handle roughly of Germanic origin and related to the German zausen. Both noun and verb are late Middle English. The verb was originally Scots and northern English, perhaps a diminutive of dialect touse meaning handle roughly.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

Pinterest Photo Credits

They Tried to Tussle My Hair was supplied to Reddit’s Funny subreddit by Kenniewalters.