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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
1540-50; tell1 + tale
Related forms
telltalely, adverb Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for tell-tale
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Yes—they spoke of things that must be forgotten and unuttered; what should I do with these tell-tale eyes of mine?

    Vendetta Marie Corelli
  • I have looked at the tell-tale, and the ship is headed to the north-west.

    Down the Rhine Oliver Optic
  • This gown may be a tell-tale—Stay, therefore, and help me to pull off my upper garment.

  • The tell-tale still indicated southwest by west as the course.

    Down the Rhine Oliver Optic
  • The tell-tale light went out at the crack in the board, and Vara knew that the wild beasts inside would be after her in a moment.

    Cleg Kelly, Arab of the City S. R. (Samuel Rutherford) Crockett
British Dictionary definitions for tell-tale


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-tale


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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