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[oh-ver-tohn] /ˈoʊ vərˌtoʊn/
Music. an acoustical frequency that is higher in frequency than the fundamental.
an additional, usually subsidiary and implicit meaning or quality:
an aesthetic theory with definite political overtones.
1865-70; translation of German Oberton. See over-, tone
2. insinuation, suggestion, intimation, hint. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for overtones
  • They play so skillfully with the overtones of criticism because they know the fundamental tones so well.
  • Rice and oat milks usually have a faint, natural sweetness with subtle overtones of the source grain.
  • Too bad if it has religious overtones further and more important.
  • They can play overtones, for example, and may well have done so.
  • There are trendy industrial overtones to this place.
  • The promoters, for security reasons, wanted an upscale crowd without too many gangster overtones.
  • The smell is a mélange of midsummer corpse with fried-liver overtones and a distinct fecal note.
  • But more importantly, it loads an interesting but thoroughly materialist idea with absolutely useless religious overtones.
  • Both are rich in harmonics: the overtones above the primary frequency of a sound that give it resonance and purity.
  • Others manifest a deep, rich gold, vibrating with many overtones.
British Dictionary definitions for overtones


(often pl) additional meaning or nuance: overtones of despair
(music, acoustics) any of the tones, with the exception of the fundamental, that constitute a musical sound and contribute to its quality, each having a frequency that is a multiple of the fundamental frequency See also harmonic (sense 7), partial (sense 6)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for overtones



1867, in literal sense, from over + tone (n.); a loan-translation of German Oberton, first used by German physicist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz (1821-1894) as a contraction of Overpartialton "upper partial tone." Figurative sense of "subtle implication" is from 1890, first attested in writings of William James.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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overtones in Science
See under harmonic.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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