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Alarm vs Tocsin vs Alert

Alarm, Tocsin and Alert all agree in meaning a signal that serves as a call to action or to be on guard especially in a time of imminent danger.

Alarm is used of any signal that arouses to activity not only troops, but emergency workers (as firemen, policemen); it suggests a sound such as a cry, a pealing of a bell, a beating of drums, or a siren.

  • sound a fire alarm
  • the dog’s barking gave the alarm

Tocsin may be either an alarm sounded by bells usually from the belfry of a church or, more often, the bells sounding an alarm. but is used figuratively for any sort of warning of danger.

  • the loud tocsin tolled their last alarm

Alert, a military term for a signal to be on guard and ready for expected enemy action, is often used for any warning of danger.

  • sirens sounded an air-raid alert
  • the Weather Bureau issued a tornado alert in the early afternoon . . . . The alert was cancelled after 5 p.m.
    Springfield Union

It may also denote the state of readiness called for by the signal or warning or the period during which this is maintained.

  • an abandon-ship alert was signaled. Warning for that . . . was to be four blasts of the ships whistle
    Lowell Bennett
  • a peacetime round-theclock alert against surprise aerial attack
    N. Y. Times