old wives tells (and others)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Feb 17 17:05:50 UTC 2014

On Feb 17, 2014, at 11:43 AM, Herb Stahlke wrote:

> "Old wives tell" sounds like a Southern variety that laxes tense vowels
> before /l/.
Unless it refers to an indication (eye- or lip-twitch, posture change, quality of speech, etc.) on the part of a poker player that inadvertently reveals (= "telegraphs") the strength or weakness of his or her hand--perhaps old wives (or women) could have different tells from younger ones, or from men.

Curiously, this "tell", n., which is common enough at least in poker lingo to have its own (albeit brief) Wikipedia page, has no lemma in either the OED or AHD5.  I'm pretty sure nominal "tell" in this sense has been known to spread to, say, spy or diplomacy scenes in movies or books, in non-poker contexts that involve the running of a bluff.  And possibly also to sports contexts baseball or football, for a pitcher or infielder who reveals via a tell whether the upcoming pitch is a slider or fast ball, or a baserunner may have a "tell" for whether he's planning to try to steal a base.  An offensive lineman in football might could have a "tell" for whether a running play or pass has been called, or a linebacker for whether he's planning to blitz.  I suspect I've heard "tell" used in such cases, but I can't be certain.  Or how about hockey shoot-outs, for either the penalty shooter or the goalie?  Alice or anyone, can you help out?  And why no dictionary entries?


> On Mon, Feb 17, 2014 at 12:30 AM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: "old wise tale"/"old wives tell"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> On Sun, Feb 16, 2014 at 4:50 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu
>>> wrote:
>>> FWIW, the egg corn database includes hits for "old wise tale", "old wise
>>> tail", and even "wise tale" without the old.
>> But not "old wives tell," apparently. "Old wise tail" is interesting for
>> its unintentional(?) double-entendre. Since I've never seen or heard simply
>> "wives' tale" where I'd expect "old wives' tale," or ever, I'm not sure
>> about that one. But...
>> Youneverknow.
>> Also, heard:
>> "They treated me like a bald-headed stepchild."
>> --
>> -Wilson
>> -----
>> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to
>> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>> -Mark Twain
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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