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Etymology 1[edit]

a railway ballast tamper

tamp +‎ -er


tamper (plural tampers)

  1. A person or thing that tamps.
  2. A tool used to tamp something down, such as tobacco in a pipe.
  3. (rail transport) A railway vehicle used to tamp down ballast.
    Synonyms: ballast tamper, tamping machine
  4. An envelope of neutron-reflecting material in a nuclear weapon, used to delay the expansion of the reacting material and thus produce a longer-lasting and more energetic explosion.

Etymology 2[edit]

From Middle French temprer (to temper, mix, meddle). Doublet of temper.


tamper (third-person singular simple present tampers, present participle tampering, simple past and past participle tampered)

  1. (intransitive) To make unauthorized or improper alterations, sometimes causing deliberate damage; to meddle (with something).
    tamper detection
    The alarm had been tampered with and didn’t go off when it should have.
    The election monitors found that a large number of ballots had been tampered with.
    Synonym: interfere
    • 1640, Joseph Hall, Christian Moderation[1], London: Nathaniel Butter, Book 1, § 7, p. 70:
      Our body is as a well-set clock which keeps good time; if it be too much or indiscreetly tamper’d with, the larum runs out before the houre.
    • 1641, John Milton, Of Reformation, Thomas Underhill, page 25:
      [] of those Books that passe for authentick who knows what hath bin tamper’d withall, what hath bin raz’d out, what hath bin inserted []
    • 1817 December 31 (indicated as 1818), [Walter Scott], chapter VII, in Rob Roy. [], volume III, Edinburgh: [] James Ballantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable and Co. []; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, →OCLC, page 210:
      [] a small steel pistol was concealed within the purse, the trigger of which was connected with the mounting, and made part of the machinery, so that the weapon would certainly be discharged, and in all probability its contents lodged in the person of any one, who, being unacquainted with the secret, should tamper with the lock which secured his treasure.
    • 1962, Rachel Carson, chapter 17, in Silent Spring[2], Boston: Houghton Mifflin, page 297:
      These extraordinary capacities of life have been ignored by the practitioners of chemical control who have brought to their task [] no humility before the vast forces with which they tamper.
  2. (intransitive) To try to influence someone, usually in an illegal or devious way; to try to deal (with someone).
    Prosecutors argued that he would tamper with witnesses if bail was granted.
    • 1651, John Milton, The Life and Reigne of King Charls[3], London: W. Reybold, page 217:
      [] no man knowes whether a Wife and a Mother, which had such a latitude of power over the Father and the Sonne, would not be tampering with a Prince (even in the point of Religion) of so tender years as rendred him fit for any impression, and to be indoctrinated with such principles as well concerning Religion, as others best suitable to her own designes.
    • 1740, David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature[4], London: John Noon, Volume 3, Part 2, Section 5, p. 110:
      [] as these passions and principles are inalterable, it may be thought, that our conduct, which depends on them, must be so too, and that ’twou’d be in vain, either for moralists or politicians, to tamper with us, or attempt to change the usual course of our actions, with a view to public interest.
    • 1803, Robert Charles Dallas, The History of the Maroons[5], London: Longman and Rees, Volume 1, Letter 6, p. 169:
      The Maroons [] had not been tampered with by the French, nor had they themselves, at this time, tampered with the slaves.
    • 1838 March – 1839 October, Charles Dickens, chapter 59, in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, London: Chapman and Hall, [], published 1839, →OCLC, page 584:
      You were talking of tampering, just now. Who tampered with Yorkshire schoolmasters, and, while they sent the drudge out, that he shouldn’t overhear, forgot that such great caution might render him suspicious, and that he might watch his master out at nights, and might set other eyes to watch the schoolmaster? Who tampered with a selfish father, urging him to sell his daughter to old Arthur Gride []
  3. (dated) To meddle (with something) in order to corrupt or pervert it.
    • 1741, Samuel Richardson, Pamela, London: C. Rivington and J. Osborn, Volume 1, “To my worthy Friend, the Editor of PAMELA,” p. xii,[7]
      [] No Art used to inflame him, no Coquetry practised to tempt or intice him, and no Prudery or Affectation to tamper with his Passions; but, on the contrary, artless and unpractised in the Wiles of the World, all her Endeavours, and even all her Wishes, tended only to render herself as un-amiable as she could in his Eyes:
    • 1790, Ann Radcliffe, chapter 11, in A Sicilian Romance[8], volume 2, London: T. Hookham, page 77:
      She therefore dissuaded Julia from attempting to tamper with the honesty of a servant who had the keys of the vaults []
    • 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois, chapter 10, in The Souls of Black Folk[9], Chicago: A. C. McClurg, page 204:
      Is it not the tendency, born of Reconstruction and Reaction, to found a society on lawlessness and deception, to tamper with the moral fibre of a naturally honest and straightforward people until the whites threaten to become ungovernable tyrants and the blacks criminals and hypocrites?
  4. (obsolete) To involve oneself (in a plot, scheme, etc.).
    • 1716, Joseph Addison, The Free-holder, No. 31, 6 April, 1716, London: D. Midwinter and J. Tonson, p. 180,[10]
      [] he was beheaded upon the Defeat of the Conspiracy for having but thus far tampered in it.
  5. (obsolete) To attempt to practise or administer something (especially medicine) without sufficient knowledge or qualifications.
    • 1649, Nicholas Culpeper, transl., A Physicall Director[11], London: Peter Cole, page 29:
      Certainly it is a scurvy strong troublesom purge, therefore ill to be tamperd with by the unskilful []
    • 1722 March, H[enry] F[oe] [pseudonym; Daniel Defoe], A Journal of the Plague Year: [], London: [] E[lizabeth] Nutt []; J. Roberts []; A. Dodd []; and J. Graves [], →OCLC, page 36:
      [] Corners of Streets were plaster’d over with Doctors Bills, and Papers of ignorant Fellows; quacking and tampering in Physick, and inviting People to come to them for Remedies;
    • 1753, Robert Shiells, “John Milton”, in The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland[13], volume 2, London: R. Griffiths, pages 120–121:
      [] by reason of his continual studies, and the head-ach, to which he was subject from his youth, and his perpetual tampering with physic, his eyes had been decaying for twelve years before.
  6. (US, Canada, in professional sports) To discuss future contracts with a player, against league rules.
    Synonym: (UK) tap up
Derived terms[edit]






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