See more synonyms for telltale on
  1. a person who heedlessly or maliciously reveals private or confidential matters; tattler; talebearer.
  2. a thing serving to reveal or disclose something.
  3. any of various indicating or registering devices, as a time clock.
  4. Music. a gauge on an organ for indicating the air pressure.
  5. an indicator showing the position of a ship's rudder.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  1. that reveals or betrays what is not intended to be known: a telltale blush.
  2. giving notice or warning of something, as a mechanical device.

Origin of telltale

First recorded in 1540–50; tell1 + tale
Related formstell·tale·ly, adverb Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for telltale

Contemporary Examples of telltale

Historical Examples of telltale

  • Letty nodded without looking at him; there was a telltale quivering in her face.

    Tiverton Tales

    Alice Brown

  • He had stolen the telltale agreement too and now held all the cards—all of them.

    The Vagrant Duke

    George Gibbs

  • He had found the trail again, a telltale footprint with the patched sole.

    The Plunderer

    Roy Norton

  • Had he been looking at her he would have seen the telltale color tide her cheeks.

    The Highgrader

    William MacLeod Raine

  • At this point, the wide, old boards of the floor gave a telltale snap.

British Dictionary definitions for telltale


  1. a person who tells tales about others
    1. an outward indication of something concealed
    2. (as modifier)a telltale paw mark
  2. any of various indicators or recording devices used to monitor a process, machine, etc
  3. nautical
    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

Word Origin and History for telltale

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