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Growing up in my family, we would often use the phrase "tell me when" when serving each other food, pouring drinks, etc. For example, my mother would begin pouring me a glass of milk and say "tell me when"--I would then say "when" to indicate that she should stop pouring.

When I got married, my wife was familiar with the phrase, and I had always assumed this was a common phrase. However, I don't remember using it much (if at all) outside of home. Is the usage of this phrase common? What are its origins?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Not only is it common, it even has a dictionary mention, however this mentions Say when rather than Tell me when and that's certainly what I have encountered most often (and use myself).

when, adv. (conj. and n.)

2. In an indirect question or clause of similar meaning: At what time; on what occasion; in what case or circumstances. Also ellipt.
say when, colloq. formula used by a person pouring out drink for another, to ask him to say when he shall stop; also ellipt., as a reply to this formula.

[OED]

That is, in answer to the colloquial formula "Say when", a person might answer "When!" as a humorous answer to being told to say that, as well as indicating "Now is when I want you to stop".

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Aah, I see. Searching for "tell me when" doesn't give good results, but searching for "say when" certainly does. Thanks! –  Daniel Standage Jul 8 '13 at 13:04
    
Andrew, another "humorous" answer is to say "When?" as an immediate reply to confuse the pourer completely. –  Phil M Jones Jul 8 '13 at 13:54
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Presumably, "tell me when to stop (pouring)".

This phrase was common in my house as a child as well.

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