Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary
- (transitive, idiomatic) To function as a liability (for someone); to put into a condition of disadvantage.
1871, Harriet Beecher Stowe, chapter 27, in Pink and White Tyranny:
- [S]ome people . . . have been so short-sighted and reckless as to clamor for an easy dissolution of the marriage-contract. . . . Is it possible that they do not see that this is a liberty which, once granted, would always tell against the weaker sex?
1903, Samuel Butler, chapter 34, in The Way of All Flesh:
- Ernest's want of muscular strength did not tell against him here.
- 2003 June 23, First Chapter: Auto da Fay by Fay Weldon, New York Times:
- [H]ard as he worked, his age was beginning to tell against him.
- (transitive, idiomatic) To serve as evidence which casts doubt upon.
1892, George Gissing, chapter 2, in Born In Exile:
- She knew he was disposed to catch at anything that seemed to tell against Godwin's claims.
- 1905, Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons," in The Return of Sherlock Holmes:
- "Such a fact must tell against the theory."
- 2002 Oct. 1, John Grimshaw, Clue Challenge: BOLE, The Times (UK):
- [T]he comma tells against this reading.
- (function as a liability): disadvantage (verb)
- (serve as evidence which casts doubt upon): discredit