Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
From Tantalus (Τάνταλος) 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.
- (transitive) to tease (someone) by offering something desirable but keeping it out of reach
- (transitive) to bait (someone) by showing something desirable but leaving them unsatisfied
- 1880 — John Boyle O'Reilly, Moondyne
- They could not bear to be tantalized nor tortured by the splendid delusion.
- 1884 — Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland, section 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 — Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, Ch. XV
- 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. Scott Fitzgerald, “chapter III”, in The Great Gatsby, New York, N.Y.: Charles Scribner's Sons, OCLC 884653065:
- “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, At the Mountains of Madness, Ch. IX
- 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. ... If we had had more films, we would certainly have paused briefly to photograph certain bas-reliefs, but time-consuming hand-copying was clearly out of the question.
to tease someone by offering something desirable but keeping it out of reach
to bait someone by showing something desirable but leaving them unsatisfied
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