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tug at someone or something

to pull at someone or something. Stop tugging at me! I'll talk to you in a minute. The dog tugged at my pants cuff.
See also: tug

tug away (at something)

to pull hard at something; to haul something. She tugged away at the rope, but the anchor would not budge. No matter how much she tugged away, it didn't move.
See also: away, tug

tug at your heartstrings

also pull on your heartstrings
to cause strong feelings of affection or sympathy He looked into his son's smiling eyes and felt a tug on his heartstrings.
Usage notes: sometimes used with other verbs: The stories he told plucked at your heartstrings.
See also: heartstring, tug


showing too much respect towards someone who is in a high position As the General marched in, the collective forelock-tugging began.

tear/tug at your heartstrings

  also tear/tug at the heartstrings
if something or someone tugs at your heartstrings, they make you feel strong love or sympathy It's the story of a lost child - guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.
See also: heartstring, tear

tug of war

A struggle for supremacy, as in There's a constant political tug of war between those who favor giving more power to the states and those who want a strong federal government . Although there is an athletic contest also so named, in which participants holding either end of a rope try to pull each other across a dividing line, the present usage, first recorded in 1677, predates it by about two centuries. The noun tug itself means "a strenuous contest between two sides," and war refers to fighting, either physical or figurative.
See also: of, tug, war
References in classic literature ?
The rope he tugged at was fastened to a stout-looking ring, four or five feet above the car.
Pierre seized the crossbeam, tugged, and wrenched the oak frame out with a crash.
When Skipper arrived, Jerry wagged his stump tail and, with ears laid back, dragged and tugged harder than ever at the thin cotton of the girl's garment.
He strained and tugged at the grip, trying to twist his jowl in the slack of skin so as to reach a bite.
And it was he that first gripped another cub by the ear and pulled and tugged and growled through jaws tight-clenched.
Now and again he pulled and tugged at the collar which nearly choked him and cried out in a weak voice:
Frou-Frou, excited and over-nervous, had lost the first moment, and several horses had started before her, but before reaching the stream, Vronsky, who was holding in the mare with all his force as she tugged at the bridle, easily overtook three, and there were left in front of him Mahotin's chestnut Gladiator, whose hind-quarters were moving lightly and rhythmically up and down exactly in front of Vronsky, and in front of all, the dainty mare Diana bearing Kuzovlev more dead than alive.
Still unable to realize what had happened, Vronsky tugged at his mare's reins.
He tugged hard at his beard, and went and shut himself up in the library with a bang of the door that had a world of meaning in it.
With the cry of "now," the mare tugged with all her might, but far from galloping, could scarcely move forward; she struggled with her legs, gasping and shrinking from the blows of the three whips which were showered upon her like hail.