What does "passion-tearing" mean in the following context?

My parents were at the summer theater singing a first matinee performance of "You Can't Take It With You". In summer stock productions they were two very irritable, passion-tearing, perspiring players, and my younger brothers and I rarely went to see them. My mother was especially poor in summer stock. Watching her, even on a cool evening, Kenneth used to cringe in his seat till he was almost on the floor.

It doesn't sound like a good thing, but I cannot figure out what it actually means.

The story is written somewhere around 1947 and full context is available here.

  • 4
    It's a particularly strong form of voluntearing. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 16:24
  • 3
    I must admit I've never heard it before. I think it might mean "tearing up in passion" which from the sense of the rest of the context could mean "overacting". As you no doubt noticed, a Google search for the phrase comes up pretty dry, so I wonder if this is a neologism.
    – jbeldock
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 16:25
  • Or it might be a particularly passionate episode of ripping something up. There are two verbs spelled tear, and by far the more common is pronounced /ter/, not /tir/. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 16:27
  • @JohnLawler "voluntearing" sounds very reasonable, but the story wa written around 1945-1947 and "voluntearing" sounds fairly new (1983) compared to that. I'll also add that detail to the question.
    – some user
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 16:53
  • It looks to me like a nonce word (or phrase).
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 18:09

2 Answers 2


I found the following passages in Emotional Excess on the Shakespearean Stage: Passion's Slaves

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More here (without explanation) from The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 11

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  • I wonder if there is synonym to it. Since "passion-tearing" doesn't seem so popular, there should be some other word/phrase that means more or less the same...
    – some user
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 17:24
  • I wondered the same. Never heard of this before...
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 21:35

Passion-tearing = Dramatic over-acting.
Woe-is-me loud wailing declamations and dramatic expressions of grief / joy / ... .

Google Ngram results help heaps. Click blue year-ranges at bottom of page for source examples



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The Musical times, 1920 usage here

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Hamlets instructions to actors analysed here

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