tug

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forelock-tugging

Showing excessive deference toward someone in a superior position. I hate being in meetings with the CEO because then I have to witness all of the managers' forelock-tugging.

tear/tug/pull at/on (one's)/the heartstrings

To elicit strong feelings of sympathy or fondness. I don't know why, but that piece of music always tears at my heartstrings. That documentary really pulls on the heartstrings—you'll want to adopt all of those kids after watching it.
See also: heartstring, on, pull, tear, tug

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 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

tug your forelock

BRITISH
If someone tugs their forelock, they show a lot of respect to someone in a high social position. I don't know how you can stand bowing and scraping and tugging your forelock to all those rich old crones. Note: You can also say that someone touches their forelock. A lot of people seem to think we're supposed to go round touching our forelock and scraping our heads against the floor. We're not. Note: You can refer to this kind of behaviour as forelock-tugging or forelock-touching. The idea of forelock-tugging is totally alien to us, as is the idea that some people are born to rule. Note: These expressions are used to show that the speaker thinks that too much respect is being shown. Note: A forelock is a lock of hair that falls over a person's forehead. In the past, it was customary for lower class people to remove their hats in front of upper class people. If they were not wearing a hat, they touched their forelock instead.
See also: forelock, tug

tug at the heartstrings

or

tug at your heartstrings

COMMON If someone or something tugs at the heartstrings or tugs at your heartstrings, they cause you to feel pity or sadness. Miss Cookson knows exactly how to tug at readers' heartstrings. Note: You can use verbs such as pull and pluck instead of tug. Unlike many charity campaigns, it doesn't pull at the heartstrings. Note: You can also omit the word at. McLachlan tugs the heartstrings with a succession of ballads. Note: Heartstrings is used in many other structures and expressions with similar meanings. This is not a movie that aims for the heartstrings. Note: In medieval times, it was believed that `heartstrings' were tendons which supported the heart.
See also: heartstring, tug

tug of love

a dispute over the custody of a child. British informal
See also: love, of, tug

touch/tug your ˈforelock

(disapproving) show too much respect for a person of a higher rank or status: This is a democratic country and we don’t want people tugging their forelocks.In the past, people either took off their hats or pulled on their forelocks (= the hair above the forehead) to show respect.
See also: forelock, touch, tug

tug at somebody’s ˈheartstrings

make somebody feel strong emotions of sadness and pity: Advertisers often use babies and children to tug at your heartstrings.
See also: heartstring, tug
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.