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[tel-teyl] /ˈtɛlˌteɪl/
a person who heedlessly or maliciously reveals private or confidential matters; tattler; talebearer.
a thing serving to reveal or disclose something.
any of various indicating or registering devices, as a time clock.
Music. a gauge on an organ for indicating the air pressure.
an indicator showing the position of a ship's rudder.
a row of strips hung over a track to warn train crew members on freight trains that a low bridge, tunnel, or the like is approaching.
Yachting. (on a sailboat) a feather, string, or similar device, often attached to the port and starboard shrouds and to the backstay, to indicate the relative direction of the wind.
Squash. a narrow piece of metal across the front wall of a court, parallel to and extending 17 inches (43.2 cm) above the base: a ball striking this is an out.
that reveals or betrays what is not intended to be known:
a telltale blush.
giving notice or warning of something, as a mechanical device.
Origin of telltale
First recorded in 1540-50; tell1 + tale
Related forms
telltalely, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for tell tales
Historical Examples
  • "I am not going to tell tales out of school," said Rosamund, laughing.

    A Modern Tomboy L. T. Meade
  • All the boys were fond of her, and was he, Ernest, to tell tales about her?

    The Way of All Flesh Samuel Butler
  • Marjorie frowned; she had no desire to tell tales about Ruth.

  • “I was thinking that those pieces will tell tales,” he said.

    The Crystal Hunters George Manville Fenn
  • They must not tell tales of cowardice in the fair land of France.'

  • I've no wish to tell tales of anyone, as I've been trying to explain to your friends.

    Vice Versa F. Anstey
  • “Gone to tell tales, I suppose,” said Crow, as the door closed on the two.

    My Friend Smith Talbot Baines Reed
  • I will not tell tales out of school; so you may set your mind at rest.

    She and I, Volume 1 John Conroy Hutcheson
  • I can tell you everything, because you will neither misunderstand me nor tell tales of me.

    The Prime Minister

    Anthony Trollope
  • If he was going to tell tales, he might have told flattering ones.

    Betty Trevor Mrs. G. de Horne Vaizey
British Dictionary definitions for tell tales


a person who tells tales about others
  1. an outward indication of something concealed
  2. (as modifier): a telltale paw mark
any of various indicators or recording devices used to monitor a process, machine, etc
  1. another word for dogvane
  2. one of a pair of light vanes mounted on the main shrouds of a sailing boat to indicate the apparent direction of the wind
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 tell tales


1540s (n.), 1590s (adj.), from tell + tale, in phrase to tell a tale "relate a false or exaggerated story" (late 13c.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Idioms and Phrases with tell tales

tell tales

Divulge secrets, as in Don't trust him; he's apt to tell tales. This expression was first recorded about 1350. A variant, tell tales out of school, first recorded in 1530, presumably alluded to schoolchildren gossiping but was soon broadened to revealing secret or private information. Both may be obsolescent.
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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