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From Tantalus (Ancient Greek Τάνταλος (Tántalos)) in Greek mythology, who was condemned to Tartarus in the underworld. There, he had to stand for eternity in water that receded from him when he stooped to drink, beneath fruit trees whose branches were always out of reach.


  • IPA(key): /ˈtæntəlaɪz/
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tantalize (third-person singular simple present tantalizes, present participle tantalizing, simple past and past participle tantalized)

  1. (transitive) to tease (someone) by offering something desirable but keeping it out of reach
  2. (transitive) to bait (someone) by showing something desirable but leaving them unsatisfied


  • 1880, John Boyle O'Reilly, “The Land of the Red Line”, in Moondyne:
    They could not bear to be tantalized nor tortured by the splendid delusion.
  • 1884, Edwin Abbott Abbott, “Other Worlds”, in Flatland, § 22:
    All pleasures palled upon me; all sights tantalized and tempted me to outspoken treason, because I could not but compare what I saw in Two Dimensions with what it really was if seen in Three, and could hardly refrain from making my comparisons aloud.
  • 1895 October 1, Stephen Crane, chapter 15, in The Red Badge of Courage, 1st US edition, New York: D. Appleton and Company, page 149:
    He had been possessed of much fear of his friend, for he saw how easily questionings could make holes in his feelings. Lately, he had assured himself that the altered comrade would not tantalize him with a persistent curiosity, but he felt certain that during the first period of leisure his friend would ask him to relate his adventures of the previous day.
  • 1925, F[rancis] Scott Fitzgerald, chapter III, in The Great Gatsby, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, →OCLC; republished New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953, →ISBN, page 53:
    “It was—simply amazing,” she repeated abstractedly. “But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.”
  • 1936, H. P. Lovecraft, chapter IX, in At the Mountains of Madness:
    As we threaded our dim way through the labyrinth with the aid of map and compass [] we were repeatedly tantalized by the sculptured walls along our route.

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