tell off

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From the military order: "number" - when starting with the first soldier, each would number himself out loud, counting in sequence file by file and rank by rank.


tell off (third-person singular simple present tells off, present participle telling off, simple past and past participle told off)

  1. (transitive) To rebuke, to reprimand, or to admonish, often in a harsh, angry, direct way.
    Joel's boss told him off for being late again.
  2. (transitive) To count (members of a sequence), to enumerate.
    • 1903, Field and Stream (page 755)
      The Recruit looked thoughtful and told off the days on his fingers.
  3. (transitive, dated) To allocate duties to someone.
    • 1887, Harriet W. Daly, Digging, Squatting, and Pioneering Life in the Northern Territory of South Australia, page 63:
      The provisions were packed over night and sent down by boat, in charge of the steward of the Gtdnare or some person specially told off for the purpose.
    • 1908, Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows, London: Methuen, page 17:
      When they were quite ready, the now triumphant Toad led his companions to the paddock and set them to capture the old grey horse, who, without having been consulted, and to his own extreme annoyance, had been told off by Toad for the dustiest job in this dusty expedition. He frankly preferred the paddock, and took a deal of catching.
  4. (transitive, military) To divide and practise a regiment or company in the several formations, preparatory to marching to the general parade for field exercises.
    • 1885 Edward Farrow, A Dictionary of Military Terms
      To equalize a battalion is to tell off a certain number of companies, usually eight, in such a manner that the several component parts shall consist of the same number of men.




  • Oxford English Dictionary