Charles Dickens Little Dorrit Chapter 25

When he had thus disposed of his cards, all being done very quietly and in a suppressed tone, Mr Pancks puffed his way into his own breast-pocket and tugged out a canvas bag; from which, with a sparing hand, he told forth money for travelling expenses in two little portions.

What does "told forth money" mean in the above passage?

  • 3
    It's intriguing that Cambridge doesn't have the meaning of tell that's being employed here. MW does, though.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 10, 2022 at 10:53

3 Answers 3


Merriam-Webster has:



tell the stars, if thou be able to number them
Genesis 15:5 (King James Version)

It's why bank tellers are called tellers: they count money.

In your quoted passage, Mr Pancks counted out money (see MW count out sense 3)

  • 2
    Interesting, an alternative to "tally".
    – jxh
    Nov 10, 2022 at 21:54

Told forth means "counted out", typically done in public (counting out money for a payment as you might do in front of a shopkeeper, rather than counting your money secretly).

It appears an old-fashioned usage, both this meaning of "tell" and of the specific expression "told forth".

Tell can mean "count", as in the King James Version where God tells Abraham he will have lots of decendants: "And he [God] brought him [Abraham] forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be." (Genesis 15:5) This example is given in Merriam-Webster's entry for tell, with the sense "count, enumerate".

In "told forth", forth is used with its standard meanings in Merriam-Webster, here "out into notice or view".

The Jacobean poet Ben Jonson wrote "Here's one outlived his peers / And told forth fourscore years" in To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of That Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison. Here it is a metaphorical sense of counting out years, meaning living to a certain age.

  • cf. the idiom "all told"
    – fectin
    Nov 12, 2022 at 18:02

Interesting, my first thought was that it could also mean something similar to a Latin expression "relata refero" (I tell what I heard/was told). I guess I'm wrong.

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