Main definitions of tail in US English:

: tail1tail2



  • 1The hindmost part of an animal, especially when prolonged beyond the rest of the body, such as the flexible extension of the backbone in a vertebrate, the feathers at the hind end of a bird, or a terminal appendage in an insect.

    • ‘During the acupuncture stimulation, animals were kept in plastic holders with their tails and hind legs protruding out.’
    • ‘The tail, like the rest of the body, had no internal skeleton and was reinforced only by lines of scales.’
    • ‘These tiny little birds, with short tails and sharply pointed bills, include only three species.’
    • ‘North American river otters are semi-aquatic mammals, with long, streamlined bodies, thick tapered tails, and short legs.’
    • ‘It's also possible that an Apatosaurus tail had a highly flexible extension, equivalent to a bullwhip's popper.’
    • ‘During his courtship display, the male puffs up his body and fans his tail.’
    • ‘When not resting or feeding, they can move quickly, hopping on their hind legs with their tail held out stiffly behind.’
    • ‘Hoey demonstrated, using a gliding model of a raven, that the tail of such a bird may be used to function in this manner.’
    • ‘I measured body length from snout to base of the tail for all animals captured since 1988.’
    • ‘Its tail and flight feathers are black, and its back and head are dark brown.’
    • ‘Typical examples of sexually selected traits are the exaggerated long male tails of many birds.’
    • ‘As part of the preening process, the birds rub a natural oil, which is secreted from a gland at the bottom of their tails, over their feathers.’
    • ‘Lastly, all chordates have a post-anal tail, or extension of the notochord and nerve cord past the anus.’
    • ‘I followed, trying repeatedly to get a good look, but they never allowed me more than a glimpse of their tails as they disappeared beyond the next bend.’
    • ‘He then uses this to explain why there are no post-anal fins in fish: the tail is itself an appendage.’
    • ‘Most breeders use the technique known as ‘banding’, in which a ligature is placed over the end of a puppy's tail within four days of birth.’
    • ‘Each is named by some consistent feature of the tail, or the body, or sometimes both.’
    • ‘Their back and wing coverts are heavily barred with black, as are their rust-brown tails which terminate with a narrow white band.’
    • ‘The fossil turned out to be a composite of the body of a bird with the tail of a dinosaur.’
    • ‘He looked to the brown dog, who immediately began wagging her tail.’
    hindmost part, back end, appendage
    View synonyms
  • 2A thing resembling an animal's tail in its shape or position, typically something extending downward or outward at the end of something.

    ‘the trailed tail of a capital Q’
    ‘the cars were head to tail’
    • ‘Next minute there are balloons with brightly coloured tails floating at ceiling level above Elvis' head.’
    • ‘A number of Matisse's kite tails bear a shape that is ubiquitous in her oeuvre.’
    • ‘Shaped like a kite, trailing its tail along the sea, Myanmar is the largest country on the Southeast Asian mainland.’
    • ‘It's a big circle with a little tail… it looks like the product of a drunken sculptor.’
    • ‘It retains the split tail to allow independent movement of the two halves of the wide saddle platform as the legs swing up and down.’
    1. 2.1 The rear part of an airplane, with the horizontal stabilizer and rudder.
      • ‘Use the rudder to keep the tail right behind the nose, independent of what you're doing with the ailerons.’
      • ‘Engines, tails, landing gear, bomb-bay doors, wing flaps, and dozens of skin panels are removed.’
      • ‘However, the ships had H-beams, which allowed the tails of aircraft to be suspended over the side with the main gear remaining on the deck.’
      • ‘The seam of the canopy and the weapon bay doors are sawtoothed and the vertical tails are canted at an angle.’
      • ‘Born with a straight tail and fastback fuselage, the first 172s were little more than 170s with a nosewheel.’
      • ‘Here are some tips, facts and rules-of-thumb for making safe arrivals and departures with the wind at your tail.’
      • ‘The outcry was such that the airline relented, the familiar red, white and blue made its way back onto the plane tails and planeloads of passengers breathed a sigh of relief.’
      • ‘The rudder includes a separate yaw damper and the low tail is designed for post-stall stability.’
      • ‘The canopy disintegrated and the wire shaved the top off AIRCDRE Pietsch's helmet before snapping on the tail of the aircraft.’
      • ‘The biplane looked much like a Wright Flyer except it had only one propeller and a cross-shaped tail.’
      • ‘Before departing they are instructed to try and photograph identification numbers or aircraft tails, if possible, and bring back the evidence.’
      • ‘When turning, watch the track of the tail of the aircraft, as well.’
      • ‘A glassed-in tail gunner compartment is to the rear of the tail.’
      • ‘Unprotected at the tail of the aircraft they led precarious lives.’
      • ‘The force caused the blades to flap low enough to chop off the tail of the aircraft.’
      • ‘Another example where this non-contact testing comes in handy is in testing elevator structures in aircraft tails.’
      • ‘At Fort Bliss, friends and family gathered under the tail of the plane with open arms as the soldiers disembarked.’
      • ‘I twisted around in my seat and looked at the tail of the aircraft - it was engulfed in flames.’
      • ‘The tail unit comprises all-moving horizontal tail surfaces and a single-fin vertical tail fitted with a rudder.’
      • ‘The four-winged fruit fly is severely handicapped - like a small plane with extra wings dangling from its tail.’
    2. 2.2 The lower or hanging part of a garment, especially the back of a shirt or coat.
      • ‘Beginning at the tail, stitch the body long edge, leaving the upper edge open.’
      • ‘I cleaned it with the tail of my shirt, not exactly spotless, but passable.’
      • ‘Reaching for the tail of his shirt, Dori pulled it up slightly to inspect his side.’
      • ‘While she had been reading, he had unbuttoned the dark green cotton shirt and untucked the tails from his jeans.’
      • ‘I could not grab hold of the tail of his shirt, tugging him toward me as I would have if he were still a small boy running heedless of danger into a busy street.’
      • ‘A sudden wind swept up the tail of my coat, and flocks of bugs hung low in the air, predicting rain.’
      • ‘Button-ups with tails get tucked with a belt, anything else just rides in the wind.’
      • ‘Just lick 'em and wipe with the tail of your shirt - you can taste when the glass is clean and when it's gritty.’
      • ‘Nicanor wore a multicolored striped oxford shirt with the tails tied at his waist.’
      • ‘I sighed, and a cold breeze swept past me, lifting the tail of my coat.’
      • ‘Further into my day a man in a suit drove past on a bike, suit tails and tie blowing in the wind.’
      • ‘I'm crouching, and I'm sure the tail of my coat is getting soaked.’
      • ‘One of the classics is petticoat tails, which are shaped in a segmented round.’
      • ‘The tail of his shirt and parts of his pants and underpants were burned.’
      • ‘Desmond scoffed, and then flipping up the tail of his coat, turned to sit down on the chair beside Isabella's.’
      • ‘Construction details are rounded out with single needle tailoring, hemmed sleeves and a vented tail.’
      • ‘A soft wind rustled the tails of his coat.’
      • ‘He clearly could think of nothing else to say, so he took off his glasses and began polishing them on the tail of his shirt, as was his habit whenever he was thinking.’
      • ‘Even wild and childish Kyle was poised behind his keyboard, black buttoned shirt, tails hanging unmannered over his casual blue jeans.’
      • ‘Surely the best place for such tags would be on the tail of the shirt or some other low contact area.’
    3. 2.3tailsinformal A tailcoat; a man's formal evening suit with such a coat.
      ‘the men looked debonair in white tie and tails’
      • ‘He came faultlessly dressed in the formal white tie and tails, nor did he regale us with wise-cracking anecdotes about the music or some of his funny experiences in the past.’
      • ‘Dressed in top hat and tails, they toasted him with champagne and chanted ‘No Justice?’’
      • ‘The couple have turned their hobby into a business, and the driving proves a welcome change for Mr Bower - a barrister in Manchester, who swops his legal attire for coat and tails at the weekend.’
      • ‘Racegoers decked out in top hat and tails get ready for next month's Royal Ascot meeting at York Races yesterday.’
      • ‘He was in top hat, white tie and tails - attire with which a cane is optional.’
      • ‘Fred was top hat, white tie and tails, Gene was a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans.’
      • ‘He rejects the convention of wearing white tie and tails, preferring to conduct in a loose, floppy shirt that better suits his loose, floppy style.’
      • ‘Michael, 35, has opted for top hat and tails coupled with a salmon pink shirt and ties to match.’
      • ‘I once attended a ‘top hat and tails’ wedding to which an elderly uncle had been invited.’
      • ‘The one definite test for a new gentleman in Australia was that he had to be wealthy and a wealthy man could look like a gentleman once he had a large house and a carriage and dressed like a gentleman with top hat and tails.’
      • ‘The theatrical element of the show though never let up with various song and dance set pieces featuring trapeze artists, skateboarders, a tap dancer in top hat and tails, and even a dancing bagpiper.’
      • ‘It is shown alongside DiCaprio's dress coat with tails.’
      • ‘But Caron, like Ginger Rogers and Cyd Charisse before her, was dancing her way into the hearts of millions years before these young pretenders ever put on top hat and tails.’
      • ‘Dettori accompanied Sheikh Mohammed to the races at Royal Ascot wearing a top hat, tails, and a cast on his broken right ankle.’
      • ‘A drunk is a drunk whether in cloth cap with whippet or in top hat and tails.’
      • ‘He didn't go in his top hat and tails as it was relaxed dress and he was in a suit.’
      • ‘But showing at least a residue of rebellion, Jagger shunned the traditional top hat and tails, opting for a long black leather coat, purple scarf and sports shoes.’
      • ‘The members of the Royal Ascot Racing Club do not consider themselves a syndicate so much as a group of friends, and judging by the top hats and tails, the club has more than its fair share of the well-heeled.’
      • ‘The men would adorn themselves in top hat and tails, while the women MPs would deck themselves in fancy dresses and hats.’
      • ‘A tuxedo is required, and can include more formal tuxedos, such as evening tails.’
    4. 2.4 The luminous trail of particles following a comet.
      • ‘They noted that comets had two tails - one of dust, one of ions - and only the dust tail could be explained by the pressure of sunlight pushing against the comet.’
      • ‘Solar wind is responsible for the direction of a comet's tail, which always points away from the Sun.’
      • ‘I leaned on the gate and saw the great wisps of clouds in the sky like comets' tails.’
      • ‘The refrigerator-sized satellite will collect dust particles from the tail of comet Wild 2 as the two pass each other on Friday morning.’
      • ‘The first indication that the Sun might be emitting a ‘wind’ came in the seventeenth century from observations of comet tails.’
      • ‘In 1985, it was sent to L2, and then through the tail of the Giacobini-Zinner comet.’
      • ‘The word ‘comet’ actually comes from a Greek word meaning ‘hairy star’ because of the tails that comets possess.’
      • ‘This stream of lost material is what gives rise to the characteristic comet tail.’
      • ‘The comet's tail is in fact made of dust grains and frozen gases from the comet's surface that vaporise because of the Sun's heat.’
      • ‘The gases, expelled as jets, drive out debris that had been embedded in the ice, endowing comets with their flamboyant tails.’
      • ‘They will watch the material expelled from the comet get blown into the comet's tail.’
      • ‘Originally classified as an asteroid, Chiron now appears to be icy - with a tail like a comet.’
      • ‘When Earth runs into an old comet tail we see a meteor shower.’
      • ‘Kitt Peak observations also identified a bright tail extending from the galaxy.’
      • ‘The stunning apparition of a comet's tail was long regarded as a portent of doom and disaster, and in a way this is not too far from the mark.’
      • ‘Thanks to pick-up ion measurements, Ulysses can make observations of comet tails at large distances from the Sun.’
      • ‘It is this solar wind - seen only in comet tails - that carries storms from the Sun to Earth.’
      • ‘In our own solar system, the solar wind is responsible for shaping comets' tails and producing the Aurorae Borealis on Earth.’
      • ‘It was Apian who first drew the tails of comets pointing away from the sun and not streaming out behind them.’
      • ‘The tail is pushed outwards from the Sun by the solar wind and radiation pressure, and so the popular conception that a comet's tail streams away behind it is wrong.’
    5. 2.5 The lower end of a pool or stream.
      • ‘As I fished through the tail of the pool I allowed the fly to swing into the slow shallow water close to my bank.’
      • ‘I tied on the sinker with its attendant fly and tossed the whole lot downstream into the rapids at the pool tail.’
      • ‘On reaching the tail of the Pool just below the power lines I hooked a fish, which I soon realised, was substantial.’
      • ‘The large namesake rock was lodged in midstream, forming the tail of the pool.’
      • ‘We're at the tail of a big, deep pool, just where the water is beginning to speed up before cascading down into rapids.’
      • ‘The light tackle had no chance of holding such a monster as it ran out of the tail of the pool, taking all of the line and backing with it, which snapped at the drum.’
      • ‘When we arrived I could see at the tail of the pool a super looking slack on the left hand bank which literally screamed chub.’
    6. 2.6 The exposed end of a slate or tile in a roof.
      • ‘If the walls are crooked, the rafter tails will also be crooked.’
      • ‘Try to correct this problem; but if you are unable to, pop a chalk line across the rafter tails and trim them with your saw before attaching the sheathing.’
      • ‘Nail a 1 x 6 facia board to seal and trim the end grain of the rafter tails.’
  • 3The end of a long train or line of people or vehicles.

    ‘an armored truck at the tail of the convoy’
    • ‘I lingered at the very tail of the crowd, trying to stay in the growing neutral zone between the cops and the rioters.’
    • ‘If menaced with an attack, the divisions at the head and tail of the convoy will keep their positions and repel the enemy by their fire should he attack.’
    1. 3.1in singular The final, more distant, or weaker part of something.
      ‘the forecast says we're in for the tail of a hurricane’
      • ‘The pancreatic head lies cephalad to and well to the right of the umbilicus, and the tail of the pancreas extends to the spleen.’
      • ‘Tom found himself in familiar company at the back of the grid as Turkington and Thompson had also failed to finish the second race and the three of them lined up at the tail of the field.’
      • ‘We got hit by the tails of the summer hurricanes and were switching between day and night shoots a lot.’
      • ‘They accumulate around the equator of Earth in the radiation belts and the tail of the magnetosphere in a dense region known as the plasma sheet.’
      • ‘When stretched, the filament becomes aligned with the flow of the soap film and very little disturbance, called streets, was observed at the tail of the thread.’
      • ‘The sting of this title is in its tail: traditionally we have had dictionaries of Hellenic or Egyptian or Roman mythologies.’
      rear, end, back, extremity, conclusion
      close, end, conclusion, termination, tail end
      View synonyms
  • 4informal A person secretly following another to observe their movements.

    • ‘Then again Jack had a reason to drive evasively; even if he hadn't detected a tail, which was likely.’
    • ‘In a scene right out of The Sopranos, a tail followed a BFI truck out of the Lincoln Tunnel one evening and nearly ran it off the road in New Jersey.’
    detective, investigator, private investigator, shadow
    View synonyms
  • 5North American informal A person's buttocks.

    ‘fireworks followed when the coach kicked Ryan in his tail’
    • ‘An honest man would have packed his bags, hopped in his truck, and hauled tail out of that place a long time ago.’
    backside, behind, seat, rump, rear, rear end
    buttocks, backside, behind, seat, rump, rear, rear end
    View synonyms
    1. 5.1vulgar slang A woman's genitals.
    2. 5.2 Women collectively regarded as a means of sexual gratification.
      ‘I was getting worried that both of us would be chasing tail and getting into trouble for the rest of our lives’
  • 6tailsThe reverse side of a coin (used when tossing a coin).

    • ‘It had to decide: if this coin had to come down heads or tails, on what side should it fall?’
    • ‘I toss opportunities like coins, and call tails when I've already caught a glimpse of the queen's crown.’
    • ‘Each coin has one side smoothed down flat and in theory this should be the tails side of the coin since it is illegal to deface an image of the monarch in England.’
    • ‘A mick is a throw of two tails; the tails side of a coin, or, the heads side of a coin.’
    • ‘I've flipped a coin and it's tails, so I'm inviting Louise along tomorrow.’
    • ‘Heads, David Ortiz lifts one over the Monster in the ninth inning; tails it's Albert Pujols.’
    • ‘The coin landed tails, the outback was their destination and the pair set off in a T model Ford, nicknamed Henrietta.’
    • ‘It has remained the past practice with Indian leaders to solve their own problems first and then leaving the problems of others unsolved which in other words means that heads we win and tails you lose.’
    • ‘But that's what he has claimed, and that's what he's done, but every time the coin comes up tails - no war.’
    • ‘This is ‘heads we win - tails you lose’ politics from the EU.’
    • ‘The outcome, however, had no bearing on the probability of the coin landing tails before it was flipped.’


[with object]
  • 1informal Follow and observe (someone) closely, especially in secret.

    ‘a flock of paparazzi had tailed them all over Paris’
    • ‘We were tailed up the stairs by more than one guide-cum-secret agent, who first hovered and then circled repeatedly.’
    • ‘He was tailed from a distance and followed on to a bus.’
    • ‘Online shopping is hot this year with famous folk, since schlepping to FAO Schwartz with an entourage and a legion of paparazzi tailing you tends to negate the warm, holiday glow!’
    • ‘These tested the agents' ability in making contact with a ‘cut out’ (intermediate); tailing someone in a city; losing someone who was following him or her.’
    • ‘Ilyich growled, but knew that he was outmatched for the time being, so with great reluctance, he bolted out of the room as fast as possible, with Jerwon and Greg tailing him closely.’
    • ‘He says he even lectured the FBI agents assigned to tail him, telling them to go back to school and study computers or something with a real future because their job was no good.’
    • ‘In fact, he called his brother and said I don't think I can make it to golf, you go ahead because I have these people tailing me.’
    • ‘The secret police, the AVO, began to tail Douglas wherever he went.’
    • ‘Mysterious men tailed him, and rebel groups and tribal fighters at first tried to pressure him into using the radio to recruit among the young men and women listening to his broadcasts.’
    • ‘In 1999, she was tailed by a television crew making Edinburgh or Bust.’
    • ‘Police went to intervene but Kitchen drove off in his car and refused to stop, despite police tailing him.’
    • ‘The little car next to the bus was being driven by KGB agents who were tailing him at the time.’
    • ‘In addition, ransom payments should not be filmed and media vehicles should not surreptitiously tail police cars to avoid blowing their cover, he added.’
    • ‘Every night, Chettier and other observers walk the streets, tail police officers, and document their activities.’
    • ‘She was, for example, obsessed with death squads tailing her around New York, though for what purpose was never clear.’
    • ‘Richard Tomlinson is racing down the autostrada just outside Rimini with two Italian secret service men tailing him.’
    • ‘The Mando-pop king is pretty much a nobody in the eyes of the European media, but the big-headed hot shot vented his frustration on members of the Taiwanese paparazzi who had been tailing him.’
    • ‘Turkish and British police are thought to be investigating the possibility that he was tailed into the complex by the bomber.’
    • ‘They are also useful to have around if you are tailing someone and want to remain unnoticed.’
    • ‘When Casey played his first Nike tournament after the 1998 ruling there were some 150 media tailing him.’
    1. 1.1no object, with adverbial of direction Follow.
      ‘they went to their favorite cafe—Bill and Sally tailed along’
      • ‘Behind us my guards and H'risnth's entourage tailed along, Kh'hitch engaged in a subdued exchange with the ambassador.’
      • ‘The problem was that he failed to clearly oppose the U.S. led invasion - tailing behind anything that the president said on the issue.’
      • ‘Another good reason to oppose this line of explanation is that it tails with the miserable excuses being offered up by Lynndie England.’
      • ‘Max raced forward, Franny tailing close behind him, and Nanny followed the two of them.’
      • ‘Instantly, an image materialized, displaying three massive war ships tailing after the explorers in the wake of their engine disturbances.’
      • ‘Announcements were being made in German, French and English for people to please move to the back of the square because the whole town was being jammed up with protesters tailing back from the square.’
      • ‘Not enough was done, and at times it felt our material was tailing after Royal Mail's rather than defining our own agenda.’
      • ‘To tail them, the private detective agency must have at least two different vehicles, so that they won't be discovered when tailing after one target.’
      • ‘Gorden led the charge with 82 yards on five carries, while Griffen tailed with 63 yards on ten carries.’
      • ‘Queues tail back across arid fields, waiting their turn for this sophisticated drug which could transform the region - yet not even the water with which to take it can be provided, and everyone must bring a sip of their own.’
      • ‘A web cam with its inactive little red light bulb sat next to the Notebook, its cord tailing out from its back.’
      • ‘The decking market in Australia is huge, obviously tends to follow and tail along with the housing market in Australia.’
      • ‘When he's on a job on the weekend, she's usually right beside her dad, tailing along.’
      • ‘Please tell me how he is better, given that he's lost two elections, and probably would have tailed after the president during the invasion.’
      • ‘Yuki pranced up the path to the new Meshan's domain with Philonius tailing along behind her.’
      • ‘The remaining day's competition was fierce, with the Gecko's taking top spot, squeaking by the second place slithering Cobras, as the Tigers tailed behind in third place.’
      • ‘The CPP received 1.08 percent of the total votes in the National Assembly elections, tailing behind the alliance led by political science professor Chang Ya-chung.’
      follow, shadow, stalk, trail, track, hunt, hound, dog, trace, pursue, chase, give chase to, run after, keep under surveillance
      View synonyms
  • 2North American no object, with adverbial of direction (of an object in flight) drift or curve in a particular direction.

    ‘the next pitch tailed in on me at the last second’
    • ‘He also is following through better, which keeps his throws from tailing to the right or sailing high.’
    • ‘To be fair to Carlow a number of good shots tailed out side and they were also missing two key players.’
    • ‘However, with the wind at his back, Bart Daly cruelly missed the forty-five and his side's last chance tailed to the right and wide.’
    • ‘The ball started for the left-hand upper corner before tailing back across the goal.’
    • ‘Humphreys' conversion tailed to the left, with Ulster 8-6 in front at the break.’
    • ‘Carlow had one last chance of a leveller when Richard Sinnott had a shot at goal from 40 metres but the ball tailed to the left.’
  • 3archaic Join (one thing) to another.

    ‘each new row of houses tailed on its drains to those of its neighbors’
    • ‘Each new row of houses tailed on its drains to those of its neighbours, without any inquiry being made as to whether they were on the same level or not.’
  • 4rare Provide with a tail.

    ‘her calligraphy was topped by banners of black ink and tailed like the haunches of fabulous beasts’
    • ‘Her calligraphy was topped by banners of black ink and tailed like the haunches of fabulous beasts.’


  • chase one's (own) tail

    • informal Rush around ineffectually.

      • ‘How many times have you said, or heard people say ‘I just don't seem to have the time ’, or ‘I chase my tail from morning till night’.’
      • ‘Friday was one of those days when a candidate chases his tail.’
      • ‘Boy meets girl, fate intervenes, boy makes a pig's ear of it, and spends the rest of the film chasing his tail in a vain effort to recapture the fair maiden's heart.’
      • ‘I don't have time to keep chasing my tail out here.’
      • ‘I want to meet a nice girl and settle down - sometimes I feel like I'm just chasing my tail.’
      • ‘But as you chase your own tail down a maze of electronic alleyways, you sometimes wonder where it's all going to end.’
      • ‘A. I do not think that you will be chasing your tail forever.’
      • ‘Life seems a little hectic of late, though I'm not sure why, and I feel as though I have been chasing my own tail the last few days.’
      • ‘I feel I'm achieving something, not chasing my tail all the time.’
      • ‘I was kind of like chasing my tail and trying to do the right thing, and was a little bit stupid.’
  • on someone's tail

    • Following someone closely.

      ‘a police car stayed on his tail for half a mile’
      • ‘She swerved between buildings, statues, and anything that might make them lose her, but they stayed on her tail.’
      • ‘That would explain all ten of the police cars on our tail, plus a couple of vans.’
      • ‘Letting her bike swerve, she halted a few inches from the track railing and stayed on his tail.’
      • ‘The police stayed on his tail for four miles, until he pulled over once more.’
      • ‘On his tail is FBI agent Carl Hanratty and his team of oafs.’
      • ‘Let's say you're about to get fired or you've just killed a man and the police are on your tail.’
      • ‘Drug dealers who plague Swindon's streets are today warned that police are on their tail.’
      • ‘He ran after the group, staying on their tail as they headed into High Woods Country Park.’
      • ‘He ducked and dodged around the buildings, trying to lose his pursuers but they managed to stay on his tail.’
      • ‘Two burglars were today behind bars after a passing motorist tracked them through the streets of York and put police on their tail, the city's crown court heard.’
      close behind someone, following someone closely, on someone's heels, hard on someone's heels, tailing someone
      View synonyms
  • the tail wags the dog

    • The less important or subsidiary factor, person, or thing dominates a situation; the usual roles are reversed.

      ‘the financing system is becoming the tail that wags the dog’
      • ‘But, they persist, peddling garbage, contradicting themselves in public (as in the example I posted), asserting the illogical (e.g. that the tail wags the dog) without evidentiary support from real sources, etc.’
      • ‘This tail wags the dog, dominates university life for students and staff.’
      • ‘He must have gained a profound understanding of that old saw ‘when the tail wags the dog’ in his role as program manager for the project.’
      • ‘But he says that the conclusion as to whether the tail wags the dog or the reverse may be less straightforward.’
      • ‘Borges talks about not being able to tell whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail in his own writing of poetry and stories.’
      • ‘What are some of the most common ways in which the tail wags the dog in financial aid?’
      • ‘The goal of developing the economy has yielded to the states looking to simply alleviate their budget concerns; the tail wags the dog.’
      • ‘Even asking whether The Superstar Effect or TLT will win in a fight is like asking whether the dog wags the tail or the tail wags the dog.’
      • ‘When ‘the truth’ becomes irrelevant, and perception is all that matters, then the tail wags the dog, and (as you know) that ain't quite right.’
      • ‘How frightening it is when the tail wags the dog.’
  • with one's tail between one's legs

    • informal In a state of dejection or humiliation.

      • ‘Proponents of this philosophy tend to ignore the fact that for every successful convert in the fields of play or coaching, there have been nine who scuttled back to rugby league with their tail between their legs.’
      • ‘I made a bunch of money and lost it, and then came back to New York City with my tail between my legs, essentially.’
      • ‘I got my bill and left a hefty tip, leaving with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘When I left, I left publicly and not with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘I can walk away from here with my head held high - I am certainly not going away with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘Depressed beyond belief I left with my tail between my legs.’
      • ‘At worst they would be stripped of their titles and prize money, banned from future competitions, and sent home with their tail between their legs.’
      • ‘The last meeting I had with Sony I was sent off with my tail between my legs as if I was doing a very stupid thing with the material on this album.’
      • ‘You walked away from Korea with your tail between your legs.’
      • ‘I will not retreat to Canada with my tail between my legs.’

Phrasal Verbs

  • tail something in (or into)

    • Insert the end of a beam, stone, or brick into (a wall).

      • ‘When the platform consists of two or more stones, the first of them is laid on the last step that is set, and one end tailed in and wedged into the wall.’
  • tail off (or away)

    • Gradually diminish in amount, strength, or intensity.

      ‘the economic boom was beginning to tail off’
      • ‘The discussion gradually tails off as the wiki entry now represents the shared knowledge of the community represented by the discussion participants.’
      • ‘He taught himself through books, but his reading tailed off a bit because of his gardening.’
      • ‘I think my blog has developed into a bit of both - and this has made me realise that the passionate views I expressed at the beginning have begun to tail off.’
      • ‘A worrying question for the city's fathers and economic development experts is - what happens if one of the city's biggest sources of employment growth tails off?’
      • ‘Initially people joined, and then, over the months of 1993, the numbers of people signing up tailed off and dropped.’
      • ‘For normal papers, the rate of citation peaks in the second to fourth years after publication and gradually tails off thereafter.’
      • ‘After the back injury in 1989, Nava's attendance started to tail off.’
      • ‘Police today confirmed that the number of calls has tailed off considerably over the weekend.’
      • ‘‘Don't bother,’ I said with my voice tailing off.’
      • ‘I'm willing to concede that a few of the dozen tunes might be rewrites of songs I have heard before, and the songcraft audibly tails off in the final few tracks.’
      • ‘It could be worth putting your property on the market sooner rather than later, in case demand does tail off in the short term and the market weakens over the coming months.’
      • ‘What was very interesting was that action had been tailing off until Peter tried a dead trout as bait.’
      • ‘Typical of diaries - you start all keen then it tails off!’
      • ‘We tail off weakly at the end, not knowing what to do next.’
      • ‘His voice tails off, his attention clearly drawn to the television blaring out the lunchtime news in the background.’
      • ‘I used Avant for a few weeks, but my usage gradually tailed off.’
      • ‘Gold is dropping and redemptions from retirement accounts have tailed off.’
      • ‘Then the wind shifted to the west, the rain tailed off and the layers of cloud above diminished.’
      • ‘However, with sales beginning to tail off and that once-fresh styling beginning to age, it was time to bring it into corporate line.’
      • ‘But if the upper speed limit tails off more gradually, then other factors are more likely responsible.’
      fade, wane, ebb, dwindle, decrease, lessen, get less, diminish, decline, subside, abate, drop off, drop away, fall away, peter out, taper off
      View synonyms


Old English tæg(e)l, from a Germanic base meaning ‘hair, hairy tail’; related to Middle Low German tagel ‘twisted whip, rope's end’. The early sense of the verb (early 16th century) was ‘fasten to the back of something’.




Main definitions of tail in US English:

: tail1tail2



  • Limitation of ownership, especially of an estate or title limited to a person and their heirs.

    ‘the land was held in tail general’
    See also fee tail
    • ‘The Legislature, when giving to lands held in tail general the descendible quality of estates in fee, treats them as lands capable of being devised..’


Middle English (denoting a tallage): from Old French taille ‘notch, tax’, from taillier ‘to cut’, based on Latin talea ‘twig, cutting’.