tear at

(redirected from tearing at)

tear at

1. To violently pull, rip, or attack someone or something. Billy tore at the presents, flinging wrapping paper behind him in a wild frenzy. The wolves were tearing at the hiker when I found him.
2. To elicit a strong emotional response, especially sympathy, sadness, or guilt. The phrase is followed by a noun or pronoun, or, commonly, "(one's) heart/heart strings/conscience." The film will tear at the heart strings of even the most cynical moviegoer. It tears at me when I think about it, but I cannot take it back. It tore at my conscience to fire him, but I knew it had to be done.
See also: tear

tear at someone or something

to rip at someone or something; to try to tear someone or something up. The badger tore at me, but I dodged it and ran away fast. Timmy tore at the package, struggling to get the paper off.
See also: tear

tear at

1. Pull at or attack violently, as in Jane eagerly tore at the wrapping paper, or The dog tore at the meat. [Mid-1800s]
2. Distress, as in Their plight tore at his heart.
See also: tear

tear at

v.
1. To pull at or attack something violently: The dog tore at the meat.
2. To distress someone or something greatly: Their sad story tore at my heart. When I told a lie, it tore at my conscience.
See also: tear
References in periodicals archive ?
Brantome also waxes eloquent over Elizabeth of Austria's mourning, insisting that her religiosity and sadness were of the most genuine variety, "not like a desperate and deranged woman, making loud cries, tearing at her face, and pulling out her hair, nor imitating the woman that one lauds for crying." Rather, Elizabeth cried softly: