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[teyl] /teɪl/
a narrative that relates the details of some real or imaginary event, incident, or case; story:
a tale about Lincoln's dog.
a literary composition having the form of such a narrative.
a falsehood; lie.
a rumor or piece of gossip, often malicious or untrue.
the full number or amount.
Archaic. enumeration; count.
Obsolete. talk; discourse.
Origin of tale
before 900; Middle English; Old English talu series, list, narrative, story; cognate with Dutch taal speech, language, German Zahl number, Old Norse tala number, speech. See tell1
Can be confused
tail, tale. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for tale
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Without apologising for this digression, we return to the thread of our tale.

    The Pirate City R.M. Ballantyne
  • His tale of a Tub has little resemblance to his other pieces.

  • And then all sat down, and Dave told his tale, just as I have related it here.

    Dave Porter in the Far North Edward Stratemeyer
  • Yet, being human, it had its own inward strifes; and of one of these I wish to tell the tale.

    Days Off Henry Van Dyke
  • Each time I have deleted something, which, while it has refined, I trust has not impaired the strength of the tale.

    Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer Cyrus Townsend Brady
British Dictionary definitions for tale


a report, narrative, or story
one of a group of short stories connected by an overall narrative framework
  1. a malicious or meddlesome rumour or piece of gossip: to bear tales against someone
  2. (in combination): talebearer, taleteller
a fictitious or false statement
tell tales
  1. to tell fanciful lies
  2. to report malicious stories, trivial complaints, etc, esp to someone in authority
tell a tale, to reveal something important
tell its own tale, to be self-evident
  1. a number; amount
  2. computation or enumeration
an obsolete word for talk
Word Origin
Old English talu list; related to Old Frisian tele talk, Old Saxon, Old Norse tala talk, number, Old High German zala number
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 tale

Old English talu "story, tale, the action of telling," from Proto-Germanic *talo (cf. Dutch taal "speech, language"), from PIE root *del- "to recount, count." The secondary English sense of "number, numerical reckoning" (c.1200) probably was the primary one in Germanic; cf. teller (see tell) and Old Frisian tale, Middle Dutch tal "number," Old Saxon tala "number," Old High German zala, German Zahl "number."

The ground sense of the Modern English word in its main meaning, then, might have been "an account of things in their due order." Related to talk and tell. Meaning "things divulged that were given secretly, gossip" is from mid-14c.; first record of talebearer "tattletale" is late 15c.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for tale


Related Terms

fish story

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with tale
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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