"Tell it like it is" or "Say it like it is" ?

Which expression do you use most: “Tell it like it is” or “Say it like it is” ?

Can you also list which part of the country/world you are from, so we can see if there is a geographical component to the answers?

Also, do the two forms mean the same thing, or is there a subtle difference in meaning?

I was surprised by a quick Google search of these two terms. Please answer the poll before reading the spoiler

[SPOILER]“Say it like it is” seems much more popular. Below are Google results

5,930,000 for “say it like it is”
777,000 for “tell it like it is”

2,420,000 for “i like to say it like it is”
342,000 for “i like to tell it like it is”

25,500,000 for “i say it like it is”
600,000 for “i tell it like it is”

9,870,000 for “he says it like it is”
3,620,000 for “he tells it like it is”

Hmm, right now, it is 100% “tell it like it is” and 0% “say it like it is”.

This is more in line with my original expectations, but opposite of the Google search results. Can anyone explain the discrepancy?

I’m old enough to remember Aaron Neville’s #1 hit “Tell It Like It Is” from 1966. I can’t say I remember ever hearing someone say “say it like it is.”

To elaborate, I would expect “tell it” to refer to content (e.g. “tell it like it is”) and “say it” to refer to delivery (e.g. “say it like you mean it”). Neither “tell it like you mean it” nor “say it like it is” sounds right.

I agree 100 percent.

What I would have said. The Google hits approach to solving usage issues is flawed as I see it. Means next to nothing in this case.

I’ve also never heard “say it like it is.” I want to check out the context for the Google results. I’m guessing some of the "say"s are part of a longer phrase, as in:

“he says it like it is (no big deal)”
“I say it like it is (spelled)”

I don’t use, and rarely hear, either.

If you check out the Google results (eg this search) you’ll see that people are using “say it like it is” with the same meaning as “tell it like it is”. So I don’t think the search results are skewed by that phrase showing up in a different context.

Maybe it’s a generational thing? I’m familiar with “tell it like it is” while my daughter was not familiar with it and thought “say it like it is” sounds better.

I use “tell it like it is”, but I realize I tend to be an oddball for my age cohort. I’m also familiar with the Aaron Neville song, which is what I draw my own use from.

Yeah, I looked at them after posting, and you’re right. I’m sure there are a few instances of what I mentioned, but if so, they’re way down the list.

I suppose it could be a generational thing. I’m young-ish (mid 30’s), but like nashiitashii, I tend to skew old on a lot of my cultural and linguisitic references. But whatevs, brah.

I’m 46, from California, and would never, in truth, use either the hoary “tell it like it is” or the deplorable “say it like it is.” When I even think of the former, it comes in the voice of Howard Cosell. If I’m going to have a voice in my head, let it be Lauren Bacall’s.

And it’s still unanimous with 55 people reporting.

BTW, I’ve only heard it on TV, I don’t really say it. It sounds to me like something that would be started with a snap and ended with “Girlfriend.” and I’m just not that type of guy.

I’m probably the ignorant hillbilly of the voters, but I’ve always heard “say it like it is”. I say it both ways, depending on context.

I use “tell it like it is” for emphasis on a particular idea, for example:

“Why don’t you just tell it like it is, dad. You think its inappropriate for me to eat Peeps for breakfast”

I use “say it like it is” for emphasis on specific words or phrases. For example:

“Say it like it is, dad: You think Peeps are icky.”
A useless and arbitrary distinction, but what do you expect from someone who eats Peeps for breakfast?


I’m originally from southern Missouri, for those regional linguists out there.

“Tell it like it is” is a command to someone to, well, tell it like it is.

However, if someone follows my order, I’d say he’s someone who “says it like it is.”

I always understood the “it” in “tell it like it is” to be a thing, event, or principle to be described. How the students are being pushed down by the administration, what happened at the concert last night, or how to play poker well.

You say words and phrases, but you tell people the content embodied in those words–and there has to be someone else present to tell it to. If you’re locked in a room by yourself you can say anything you want. But you can’t tell anything to anyone, because there’s nobody to tell it to. “Say it like it is” doesn’t sound like good English to me.

Californian born and raised.