• tocsin •
tahk-sin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: Today's Good Word has nothing to do with poison: it refers to a warning alarm, especially if made by the ringing of a bell. However, sirens and other types of alarms are also covered by this word.
Notes: We bring you this word today to remind you not to confuse it with toxin. Both are a bit rare, tocsin more so than toxin, which is all the more reason to handle their spelling with care. Tocsin is a lexical orphan without any derivational relatives.
In Play: We usually think of bells in church steeples when we think of tocsins, but today we have louder kinds of alarms: "Our town has an emergency tocsin that bellows across the whole city every day at noon as it is tested." Metaphorical tocsins are not excluded: "Finding that her key no longer fit the lock to her office door was a tocsin to Anita Job that she was in for a tough day."
Word History: Today's Good Word was borrowed from Old French touque-sain, a word absorbed from Old Provençal tòca-senh and reworked a bit. The Provençal word was based on tocar "to strike" + senh "bell". Tocar was a descendant of Vulgar (Street) Latin toccare "to strike, hit", while senh "bell" came from Latin signum "sign, mark, signal". English sign and signal were borrowed from the same word or its relatives. We are not sure where toccare came from, but we do know that it came down to French as toucher "to touch", whence English acquired the later version. (Every e-mail from Margie Swed is a tocsin for another excellent Good Word from her like today's.)