See more synonyms for tale on Thesaurus.com
  1. a narrative that relates the details of some real or imaginary event, incident, or case; story: a tale about Lincoln's dog.
  2. a literary composition having the form of such a narrative.
  3. a falsehood; lie.
  4. a rumor or piece of gossip, often malicious or untrue.
  5. the full number or amount.
  6. Archaic. enumeration; count.
  7. 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 confusedtail tale
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for tale


  1. a report, narrative, or story
  2. one of a group of short stories connected by an overall narrative framework
    1. a malicious or meddlesome rumour or piece of gossipto bear tales against someone
    2. (in combination)talebearer; taleteller
  3. a fictitious or false statement
  4. tell tales
    1. to tell fanciful lies
    2. to report malicious stories, trivial complaints, etc, esp to someone in authority
  5. tell a tale to reveal something important
  6. tell its own tale to be self-evident
  7. archaic
    1. a number; amount
    2. computation or enumeration
  8. an obsolete word for talk

Word Origin for tale

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

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

Idioms and Phrases with tale


see old wives' tale; tall tale; tell tales; thereby hangs a tale.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.