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To tell someone off

Posted by ESC on March 10, 2004

In Reply to: To tell someone off posted by Larry Baruch on March 10, 2004

: I was explaining to my French students that although "reprimand" is the correct word, "to tell someone off" is the more usual phrase but then they asked what that meant and where did it come from, and for the life of me I'd no idea, please help.

Reprimand is more a person in authority scolding an underling. "Tell off" is more between equals.

Tell (someone) where to get off, to express anger at, rebuke strongly, 1902. Tell off, 1919.
Tell on, to inform on, 1900.
From Listening to America: An Illustrated History of Words and Phrases from Our Lively and Splendid Past by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982).

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