I can give examples of the use of this expression. Even if I can guess what it means, I don't have any adequate ideas.

The phrase has been used in this book[1]

1) The shot told; the Irrepressible was silenced; and I profited by the chance to pour in a broadside of another sort.

And in this book[2]

2) The shot told: they were notoriously the closest-fisted couple in the village.

And in this book[3]

3) It was about the time that his disappointment became known to everybody, and the shot told.


2 Answers 2


The relevant definition of shot in the Oxford English Dictionary is:

figurative. A remark aimed at some one, esp. in order to wound. Also cheap shot (North American colloquial).

The relevant definition for tell from the OED is:

to be effective or efficacious; to have the desired effect

In other words, it means that the remark hit where it was aimed.


Originally the phrase "the shot told" meant that a gunshot had struck the target, and had an effect. You can find it used in this sense in historical novels set during the Napoleonic Wars, for example.

Later, as a metaphor, it indicates that sarcasm, irony, or other possibly hostile speech had had an effect on the person to whom it was addressed.

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