mid-14c., nasalized variant of tagilen "to involve in a difficult situation, entangle," from a Scandinavian source (compare dialectal Swedish taggla "to disorder," Old Norse þongull "seaweed"), from Proto-Germanic *thangul- (source also of Frisian tung, Dutch tang, German Tang "seaweed"); thus the original sense of the root evidently was "seaweed" as something that entangles (itself, or oars, or fishes, or nets). "The development of such a verb from a noun of limited use like tangle 1 is somewhat remarkable, and needs confirmation" [Century Dictionary]. In reference to material things, from c. 1500. Meaning "to fight with" is American English, first recorded 1928. Related: Tangled; tangling. Tanglefoot (1859) was Western American English slang for "strong whiskey."