tell (v.)

Old English tellan "to reckon, calculate, number, compute; consider, think, esteem, account" (past tense tealde, past participle teald), from Proto-Germanic *taljan "to mention in order" (source also of Old Saxon tellian "tell," Old Norse telja "to count, number; to tell, say," Old Frisian tella "to count; to tell," Middle Dutch and Dutch tellen, Old Saxon talon "to count, reckon," Danish tale "to speak," Old High German zalon, German zählen "to count, reckon"), from PIE root *del- (2) "to count, reckon" (see tale).

Meaning "to narrate, announce, relate" in English is from c. 1000; that of "to make known by speech or writing, announce" is from early 12c. Sense of "to reveal or disclose" is from c. 1400; that of "to act as an informer, to 'peach' " is recorded from 1901. Meaning "to order (someone to do something)" is from 1590s. To tell (someone) off "reprimand" is from 1919.

Original sense in teller and phrase tell time. For sense evolution, compare French conter "to count," raconter "to recount;" Italian contare, Spanish contar "to count, recount, narrate;" German zählen "to count," erzählen "to recount, narrate." Klein also compares Hebrew saphar "he counted," sipper "he told."

tell (n.)

"mound, hill," 1864, from Arabic tall, related to Hebrew tel "mount, hill, heap." Compare Hebrew talul "lofty," Akkadian tillu "woman's breast."

updated on March 05, 2020

Definitions of tell from WordNet
tell (v.)
express in words;
tell me what is bothering you
Synonyms: state / say
tell (v.)
let something be known;
tell (v.)
narrate or give a detailed account of;
The father told a story to his child
Synonyms: narrate / recount / recite
tell (v.)
give instructions to or direct somebody to do something with authority;
The mother told the child to get dressed
Synonyms: order / enjoin / say
tell (v.)
discern or comprehend;
He could tell that she was unhappy
tell (v.)
inform positively and with certainty and confidence;
I tell you that man is a crook!
Synonyms: assure
tell (v.)
give evidence;
he was telling on all his former colleague
Synonyms: evidence
tell (v.)
mark as different;
Synonyms: distinguish / separate / differentiate / secern / secernate / severalize / severalise / tell apart
Tell (n.)
a Swiss patriot who lived in the early 14th century and who was renowned for his skill as an archer; according to legend an Austrian governor compelled him to shoot an apple from his son's head with his crossbow (which he did successfully without mishap);
Synonyms: William Tell
Etymologies are not definitions. From, not affiliated with etymonline.