Tantalise: Curious Words

Posted in Interesting Words on Tuesday, 22 March 2011

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This edited article about the word ‘tantalise’ originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 922 published on 22 September 1979.

Is there anything quite as tantalising as walking past a fish and chip shop and smelling the aroma of freshly-fried fish? Especially when your pockets are empty – and your stomach is, too.

Tantalus, the Greek mythological character who gave us the English word “Tantalise” knew all about that feeling of wanting something that remains firmly out of reach. For betraying the secrets of the gods to ordinary men, he was sentenced to a terrible punishment in the underworld.

King Tantalus is punished by the Gods unable to reach the delicious fruits above him

King Tantalus is punished by the Gods unable to reach the delicious fruits above him

The gods’ verdict was that he should stand with water all around him, with branches festooned with luscious fruit dangling just above his head.

If he tried to drink the water, it receded; if he tried to eat the fruit, it withdrew from his grasp.

Tantalus’ awful fate was the origin of the word “tantalise”, which means to torment somebody by tempting them with something which they cannot have.

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