On a tear

On a tear is an idiom that is primarily used in the United States. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the expression on a tear, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

On a tear (rhymes with air) means to be on a spree, to be in a flurry of sustained activity, to engage in a burst of activity, to be on a winning streak, to be on a journey of drunken activity. The idiom on a tear is primarily used in the United States. The idea is of tearing a swath of destruction as one progresses along. The origin of the phrase on a tear is vague, but the term has been in use since the 1800s, originally referring to going on a drunken tear, in which one tears up the town or leaves a path of destruction in one’s wake. The term has taken on a more positive connotation in the last few decades as more and more sports reporters have used the phrase on a tear to describe a team’s winning streak, and businessmen have used it to mean to sustain a successful profit. Often, the idiom is used in the phrase to go on a tear.


Chinese stocks have been on a tear since the end of the Lunar New Year holiday, with a lot of the rise credited to positive headlines on the prospects of a Washington-Beijing trade accord. (The Wall Street Journal)

President Donald Trump went on a Twitter tear against Nancy Pelosi Sunday morning, which ended with him saying he was “still thinking” about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s request to postpone his State of the Union speech or submit it in writing. (Business Insider)

That obviously goes without saying for any minor league baseball player, but the McSherrystown native is on a tear right now for the Seattle Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate. (The Evening Sun)

As the fall of 1948 turned to winter, Jackson County Sheriff Griffin Middleton was on a tear. (The Sylvan Herald)

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