Reader question: In this sentence – Oil is not the only commodity on a tear – what does "on a tear" mean?
That sentence means oil prices have been running high – and staying high – for some time. But it's not the only commodity on a roll. Other commodities are also on a price increasing spree.
"On a tear", according to my tentative conclusion from limited research, is a phrase that originates in Ireland where, among other things, people drink a lot. Originally, people who are said to be on a tear are actually "on a binge", or a drinking spree, that is, drinking continuously and perhaps in quantities more than they can competently cope.
Actually, I'm not so sure that "on a tear" did originate in Ireland. I'm just very sure that the Irish do seem to give the impression that they drink a lot, and get drunk too. And what happens if people get drunk? They are beyond reason. They are out of control. They run wild (or they would if they could manage the running part). For oil to be "on a tear", therefore, is for it to keep fetching exorbitant prices. This week, oil prices hit US$88 per barrel – in other words, very high.
In non-drinking occasions, "on a tear" is similar to the American idiom "on a roll", the roll being perhaps the roll of the dice in gambling. If a player keeps getting the dice to roll his way, he keeps having lucky breaks (good fortune), hence the term.
Here are a few media examples:
1. Shares on a tear in Vietnam
HANOI – Up 145% last year and rising another 40% so far this year, can Vietnam sustain its spectacular stock market rally?
- Asia Times online, April 19, 2007.
2. Gold is on a tear, but where are investors?
Gold closed at $449 an ounce Wednesday, up 76% from its February 2001 low of $255. The yellow metal has gained 8% this year, vs. 6.3% for the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index. And gold funds, which invest mainly in gold-mining stocks, have been the top-performing mutual fund category the past five years, jumping 154%, vs. 11% for the average stock fund.
But investors have yawned.
- USA Today online, November 26, 2004.
3. Apple on a tear
Apple has become quite the investor darling. Since June 9, the company's stock has risen to three new 52-week highs.
- money.cnn.com, June 21, 2004.