Definition of tom-tom in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈtäm ˌtäm/


1A medium-sized cylindrical drum used in jazz bands, etc.
Example sentences
  • One or more floor tom-toms followed and by 1940 the drum kit had reached its present form, though any number of peripheral instruments may be added by the player.
  • The opening song marches back and forth, back and forth on the tom-toms, while guitar chords are smacked awake.
  • He started the concert by drumming with his hands on a tom-tom, eventually progressing to the entire kit.
1.1An early drum, of Native American or Asian origin, typically played with the hands.
Example sentences
  • He struggled to walk onto the stage but played flute, tenor and alto sax, police whistle, African tom-toms and cow-bell with enviable vigour and verve.
  • She reinforces this hackneyed portrait by evoking African tom-toms.
  • Indian ceremonies, tom-toms, cheers, costumes, and painted faces may be part of their traditions.


Late 17th century: from Hindi ṭam ṭam, Telugu ṭamaṭama, of imitative origin.

  • Tom from Middle English:

    Like jack, Tom has long been used to represent an ordinary man. The expression Tom, Dick, and Harry, meaning ‘a large number of ordinary people’, first appeared in an 18th-century song: ‘Farewell, Tom, Dick, and Harry. Farewell, Moll, Nell, and Sue’. During the 19th century the British army offered specimens of completed official forms using the name Thomas Atkins for the fictitious enlisted man. From the 1880s Rudyard Kipling helped popularize Tommy as a name for the ordinary and much-exploited British soldier. His poem ‘Tommy’ (1892) contained such lines as ‘O it's Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy go away” / But it's “Thank you, Mr Atkins,” when the band begins to play’. The ‘tommy’ in tommy gun is not an anonymous private soldier, but the US army officer John T. Thompson, who conceived the idea of this type of sub-machine gun and financed its development. The designer, O. V. Payne, insisted in 1919 that it be called the Thompson gun, but by the late 1920s it had been domesticated as the tommy gun. In the mid 16th century a tomboy was actually a boy, specifically a rough or boisterous one. The word was applied to a girl who enjoys rough activities traditionally associated with boys at the end of that century. The cylindrical drum called the tom-tom is a different word, from Hindi tạm tạm. It came over to Britain in the 1690s.

For editors and proofreaders

Syllabification: tom-tom

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