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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 ?
In another moment a score of willing hands were tugging it earthward.
Peerybingle come back with her husband, tugging at the clothes-basket, and making the most strenuous exertions to do nothing at all (for he carried it), would have amused you almost as much as it amused him.
Sometimes, too, when he frightens me, it seems that he is a bulldog I have taken for a plaything, like some of the 'frat' girls, and he is tugging hard, and showing his teeth, and threatening to break loose.
With a face hideous with passion, his lower jaw trembling, and his cheeks white, Vronsky kicked her with his heel in the stomach and again fell to tugging at the rein.
Franklin in a chair by the book-case, tugging at his beard, and looking anxiously towards the window.
She was gasping, standing still, then tugging again and almost falling.
It is fitted with a very strong fendering arrangement for all round tugging operations for almost all sizes of ships and crafts.
To provide assistance in ship maneuverability, for tugging, conventional tugs mainly employ the system of short ropes, which needs more space (water area) and in many cases, a longer period of time for changing the moving direction of the ship (Paulauskas 1998).
Whereas this toy is very strong and backed by a 100% guarantee, it was built for tugging, not chewing.
The Tug's shape and flexibility has significantly reduced injuries associated with stick wrestling, towel wrestling, and tire tugging competitions, according to the company.
After tugging on the cells with a magnet, the researchers found increased activity in the set of 52 genes.