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Is There a Tail in Telltale Sign?

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Ten-year-old Alex, from Oceanside, California, wonders if a cat’s flicking tail inspired the expression telltale sign, meaning “an indicator.” The word is telltale, not its soundalike telltail. About 400 years ago, a telltale was a “tattler.” Today a telltale on a sailboat is “a piece of ribbon or fabric that indicates a change in the wind,” and Australians use the word telltale to denote “the rear indicator light on a motor vehicle.” One memorable use of the term is in the title of Edgar Allan Poe chilling story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This is part of a complete episode.

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