Tell as a noun
Posted: 29 December 2009 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A colleague on another language board suggested that tell, a noun, be added to our dictionary. 

He provided this sample of the term in use:

Starting this past weekend, more international flights bound for the United States have had plainclothes air marshals mixed in with passengers. Extra teams of specially trained security officers have been roaming airports looking for tells among the passengers — furtive glances or people who nervously open and close bags repeatedly.

Source: NY Times,
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/29/us...ning.html?_r=1

Here’s another example:

Crappy family situation: drugs and the law - Page 8 - Other Topics ...
15 posts - 10 authors - Last post: Nov 28
Batteries dying quickly was actually a tell of sorts. Note, I’m not a conspiracy nut and don’t claim that this is fact. Klompy is offline ...
forumserver.twoplustwo.com/34/other-other...law.../index8.html - Cached

And another, definition plus examples:

‘Tells’ are typically small fragments of body language associated with particular habits and behaviors. They are often also associated with one person only.

Tells are triggered by emotions such as excitement, anxiety and anger.

They are often subconscious and thus are useful signals of what the person is really thinking.

They may be very visible actions, such as scratching and vocalizing, or may be fleeting micro-movements, such as twitches of facial muscles.
Example

A poker player scratches his ear when he has a good hand and rubs his nose when he has a bad hand. He is also surprised when some people seem to be able to tell whether he has a good or bad hand.

Source: http://changingminds.org/explanations/behaviors/body_language/tells.htm

I wonder if this might be a shortened form of tell-tale?

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Posted: 29 December 2009 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I wonder if this might be a shortened form of tell-tale?

That would be my first guess. Wiktionary says it comes from the verb and may well originate with poker as the changingminds site indicates.

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Posted: 29 December 2009 11:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, tell as a noun has been around for some years now. The Wikipedia article cites an example of its use in David Mamet’s 1987 movie about confidence tricksters, House of Games.

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Posted: 29 December 2009 12:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It’s used frequently in Irwin Steig’s Poker for Fun and Profit (1971); that’s the earliest I’ve found in print so far, but it was clearly not new then.

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Posted: 29 December 2009 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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languagehat - 29 December 2009 12:51 PM

It’s used frequently in Irwin Steig’s Poker for Fun and Profit (1971); that’s the earliest I’ve found in print so far, but it was clearly not new then.

Many thanks for that. 

There was an earlier edition, with no Google Books view available, that points to a 1959 or earlier use:

Title Poker for Fun and Profit
Author Irwin Steig
Edition illustrated
Publisher Astor-Honor Inc, 1959
ISBN 083921085X, 9780839210856

Title Poker for fun and profit
Cornestone Library
Author Irwin Steig
Illustrated by William Steig
Edition reprint
Publisher Cornerstone Library, 1961
Length 181 pages

[ Edited: 29 December 2009 01:53 PM by cuchuflete ]
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Posted: 29 December 2009 02:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Though it’s possible, I don’t think it’s safe to assume that the term was used in the 1959 edition because it appears in the 1971 edition.

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