• noun an act of sexual intercourse. This fairly inoffensive expression is often elaborated to ‘tumble in the hay’.
  • noun an attempt, try. In working-class usage ‘give it a tumble’ is the equivalent of ‘give it a whirl’ (the Australian expression is ‘give it a burl’).
  • noun arrest, capture or detention. In criminal and police parlance in both Britain and the USA the word is used in these senses by analogy with a fall suffered by a racehorse or sports contender.


  • verb to perform athletic or gymnastic leaps, rolls or somersaults

Origin & History of “tumble”

Tumble was borrowed from middle Low German tummelen, which has other relatives in modern German tummeln ‘bustle, hurry’ and taumeln ‘reel, stagger’. All were formed from a base that also found its way into the romance languages, producing French tomber ‘fall’ (source of English tumbrel (14th c.), which in Old French denoted a ‘chute’ or ‘cart that could be tipped up’) and Italian tombolare ‘tumble, turn somersaults’ (source of English tombola (19th c.)). The derivative tumbler (14th c.) originally denoted an ‘acrobat’; the application to a ‘drinking glass’, which emerged in the mid 17th century, comes from the fact that such glasses were originally made with rounded bottoms, so that they could not be put down until they were empty.