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“Tell me about it” — What Does This Expression Really Mean?

“Tell me about it” — What Does This Expression Really Mean?

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Life is full of tedium and things that we can’t control. Whether you have a demanding boss, cranky neighbor, or unhelpful teacher, you may feel like you’re getting the raw end of the deal.

While it can be frustrating, you may just have to go with the flow and accept it.

Naturally, you can share your feelings with your friends and confidants. After all, you shouldn’t bottle everything up, and it can be good to your frustration out of your system.

However, if your friends are experiencing similar difficulties, then you should expect to hear the phrase “tell me about it.”

What Does “Tell Me About It” Mean?

Contrary to what your intuition may tell you, when someone uses this phrase, they’re not asking for you to explain your problem to them in depth. Instead, people usually use this phrase ironically. Often, the phrase “tell me about it” is used to indicate empathy and understanding, and it’s most commonly said when a person is complaining about something. When somebody is talking about a particular struggle, difficulty, or annoyance, the listener may say “tell me about it” to show that they understand and are dealing with similar challenges.

It’s a show of solidarity that is akin to saying “I experience the same struggles, and I understand your frustration.” Typically, whoever utters the phrase will usually elaborate on their situation. However, people may say “tell me about it” when they really want you to tell them about something. You can usually distinguish the meaning by their intonation. A more sarcastic intonation will indicate that you don’t really need to tell them about it.

Background of “Tell Me About It”

“Tell me about it” first showed up as an ironic phrase in printed works in the mid-1970s. Since then, it has been commonly used in film, music, and other media.

Before that, people would say “tell me about it” when they honestly wanted somebody to explain something to them. The phrase is used in both ways these days. However, the ironic use of the phrase is more common.

Therefore, if you use this phrase literally, then people may not understand it as a genuine desire for more information.

How and When to Use “Tell Me About It”

Tell me about it is slightly informal, but you can still use it in most work situations. However, don’t use it when you think that someone would find the irony of the phrase dismissive.

While this phrase has been around long enough for any age group to understand, many non-native English speakers interpret the phrase literally, so you should be mindful of the listener’s proficiency in English.

Kayla and Dominic work together at the same restaurant. Oskar, their boss, is very unkind, and he always demands too much from them.

Therefore, his employees often complain about him in their free time, and they can usually empathize with their fellow workers’ struggles.

Kayla: Oskar just signed me up for a shift tomorrow. I was supposed to go to the beach with my family, and he put me on the schedule with such short notice. This is so frustrating!

Dominic: Tell me about it! Last week, Oskar changed my schedule without even consulting me. I only learned about it when he called to ask why I was late. I wasn’t even aware that I was supposed to work that day!

Clearly, Dominic understands what Kayla is going through, and he doesn’t need her to elaborate on Oskar’s inconsiderate management style.

Dominic presented a story of his own to indicate that he can empathize with her frustration because he has faced a similar situation.

The next example will use a more literal form of the phrase.

Natia: I heard back from the college that I applied to. I have to complete a project and go through a rigorous interview process before they accept me. I’m so excited, but I’m stressed out at the same time!

Ahmet: I’m glad that you heard back from them, but that sounds very tough. Tell me about it; I’ve never heard of such a difficult admissions process! However, I’m sure that your hard work will come to fruition, so don’t worry too much.

Ahmet was unfamiliar with this college’s admissions process, so he genuinely wanted Natia to go into detail about it. In this context, it would be very difficult for Natia to misinterpret his meaning.

To make his meaning more clear, he explained his unfamiliarity with the process after using the phrase.