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From Middle Dutch tatelen, tateren (to babble, chatter) (modern Dutch tatelen, tateren (to talk, chatter)), originally imitative.[1] The word is cognate with Saterland Frisian tätelje (to talk nonsense, babble), Middle Low German tāteren, tadderen (to babble, chatter) (whence modern German Low German tatern (to chatter)), Low German tateln, täteln (to cackle, gabble).[2] Compare also Middle English dadel, dadull (tattling, gossip), and its alteration twaddle.



tattle (third-person singular simple present tattles, present participle tattling, simple past and past participle tattled)

  1. (intransitive) To chatter; to gossip.
  2. (intransitive, Canada, US, derogatory) Often said of children: to report incriminating information about another person, or a person's wrongdoing; to tell on somebody. [from late 15th c.]
    • 2009, Maryln Appelbaum, “How to Handle Children Who are Disruptive”, in How to Handle Hard-to-handle Preschoolers: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, SAGE Publishing; Appelbaum Training Institute, →ISBN, page 4:
      There are some children who just like to talk about others. They are not reporting. They are tattling, telling one negative after another. Their goal is to get others in trouble. [] Children sometimes do not mean to tattle about someone else. They do it because they are having a problem with another child and just don't know any other way to handle the problem.
    • 2009, Renee Gregory, “I’m Gettin’ Broccoli for Dinner”, in Bugs, Bears and S’mores: Songs of the Great Outdoors, Pittsburgh, Pa.: RoseDog Books, →ISBN, page 100:
      I trapped the girls inside their tent / Someone tattled on me / Put a frog in the bathroom vent / Someone tattled on me / Gave my dinner to a bear / Put a snake in Auntie's chair / And a tick in Gramp's rootbeer / Someone tattled on me
    • 2015, Deanne A. Crone, Leanne S. Hawken, Robert H. Horner, “Conducting a Functional Behavioral Assessment”, in Building Positive Behavior Support Systems in Schools: Functional Behavioral Assessment, 2nd edition, New York, N.Y., London: The Guilford Press, →ISBN, part II (Embedding Functional Behavioral Assessment within School Systems: Case Examples), page 39:
      Vera is a kindergarten student who loves to be the center of adult attention. She has a quick temper and frequently talks out in class. She also frequently "tattles" on other students.
  3. (intransitive, obsolete) To speak like a baby or young child; to babble, to prattle; to speak haltingly; to stutter.
    • 1481, “The History of Reynard the Fox”, in William Caxton, transl., edited by Henry Morley, Early Prose Romances: [] (The Carisbrooke Library; IV), London: George Routledge and Sons, [], published 1889, →OCLC, chapter XXVII (How Reynart the Fox Came another Time to the Court), page 108:
      But who can give to his leasing a conclusion, and pronounce it without tatelying, like as it were written tofore him, and that he can so blind the people that his leasing shall better be believed than the truth: that is the man.


Derived terms[edit]

Terms derived from tattle (verb)



tattle (countable and uncountable, plural tattles)

  1. (countable) A tattletale.
    • 2015, K. L. Philpotts, “Little Bro”, in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Tree: A Collection of Poems and Illustrations, Denver, Colo.: Outskirts Press, →ISBN, page 23:
      We agree on almost nothing, everything is a battle / Every secret from him is kept, his rep is being a tattle
  2. (countable, Canada, US, derogatory) Often said of children: a piece of incriminating information or an account of wrongdoing that is said about another person.
    • 2009, Maryln Appelbaum, “How to Handle Children Who are Disruptive”, in How to Handle Hard-to-handle Preschoolers: A Guide for Early Childhood Educators, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, SAGE Publishing; Appelbaum Training Institute, →ISBN, page 4:
      Have a special small bucket called the tattle bucket. Make name cards for each child. [] When children have a tattle, instead of disrupting the class, they get their name card and put it in the tattle bucket. Look in the bucket at varying times during the day. If you see a name card, go to the child and say, "I see you have your name card in the tattle bucket. What would you like to tell me?" Many times, children will have forgotten all about the tattle.
  3. (uncountable) Idle talk; gossip; (countable) an instance of such talk or gossip.
    • 1719, T[homas] d’Urfey, “The Toper. The Jolly Toper, that wont Leave His Bottle to Get the Best Wife in Christendom.”, in Wit and Mirth: Or Pills to Purge Melancholy; [], volume II, London: Printed by W. Pearson, for J[acob] Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 163:
      Prattles and Tattles, / O'er Bottles, / Shall ſtill cheriſh my Fancy, / Better, and ſweeter, / And greater, / Than dull Tea with Nancy.
    • 1876, anonymous [Diego Hurtado de Mendoza?], chapter XX, in The Spanish Comic Novel, Lazarillo de Tormes, Glasgow: John Calder & Co., [], →OCLC, page 43:
      But, as ill tongues are never wanting to disturb the repose of honest families, there was such a tattle about my wife going to dress the corregidor's victuals, make his bed, and the like, that all the town rang of it.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ tattle”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  2. ^ James A. H. Murray [et al.], editors (1884–1928), “Tattle, sb.”, in A New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (Oxford English Dictionary), volumes IX, Part 2 (Su–Th), London: Clarendon Press, →OCLC, page 111, column 2.

Further reading[edit]