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Etymology 1[edit]

Origin uncertain; apparently a variant form of tagle.


tangle (third-person singular simple present tangles, present participle tangling, simple past and past participle tangled)

  1. (intransitive) to become mixed together or intertwined
    Her hair was tangled from a day in the wind.
  2. (intransitive) to be forced into some kind of situation
  3. (intransitive) to enter into an argument, conflict, dispute, or fight
    Don't tangle with someone three times your size.
    He tangled with the law.
  4. (transitive) to mix together or intertwine
  5. (transitive) to catch and hold
    • Milton
      Tangled in amorous nets.
    • Crashaw
      When my simple weakness strays, / Tangled in forbidden ways.
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tangle (plural tangles)

  1. A tangled twisted mass.
  2. A complicated or confused state or condition.
    • 2013 August 3, “Boundary problems”, in The Economist, volume 408, number 8847:
      Economics is a messy discipline: too fluid to be a science, too rigorous to be an art. Perhaps it is fitting that economists’ most-used metric, gross domestic product (GDP), is a tangle too. GDP measures the total value of output in an economic territory. Its apparent simplicity explains why it is scrutinised down to tenths of a percentage point every month.
    I tried to sort through this tangle and got nowhere.
  3. An argument, conflict, dispute, or fight.
  4. (mathematics) A region of the projection of a knot such that the knot crosses its perimeter exactly four times.
  5. A form of art which consists of sections filled with repetitive patterns.

Etymology 2[edit]

Of Scandinavian origin; compare Norwegian tongul, Faroese tongul, Icelandic þöngull.


tangle (plural tangles)

  1. Any large type of seaweed, especially a species of Laminaria.
    • 1849, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, 10:
      Than if with thee the roaring wells / Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine; / And hands so often clasped in mine, / Should toss with tangle and with shells.
  2. (in the plural) An instrument consisting essentiallly of an iron bar to which are attached swabs, or bundles of frayed rope, or other similar substances, used to capture starfishes, sea urchins, and other similar creatures living at the bottom of the sea.

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