Learn English – Is ‘on (in) a tear’ a popular idiom

contemporary-englishidiomsphrases

I was drawn to the phrase, ‘on a tear,’ which I heard in audio in this week’s Barron’s magazine (June 6), reporting the good sales and profit performance of U.S. sneaker chain, Foot Locker:

It says:

Foot Locker is proving that expansion isn’t everything. The sneaker chain’s sales per square foot have been on a tear even as the company’s store count shrinks. That‘s done wonders for Foot Locker’s profit margins and stock price.

As I’m unfamiliar with the idiom, ‘on a tear,’ I consulted English dictionaries in both print and online.

The Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster English dictionaries and the Oxford American Dictionary do not carry ‘on a tear’ as an idiom. I suspected it could be “in a tier,” but it doesn’t add up in the context.

However, I found ‘on a tear’ in Collins English Dictionary and urban dictionary.

Collins defines ‘on a tear’ as;

(slang) showing a sudden burst of energy. ex. Final domestic demand, then, was on a tear —— good news.

Urban Dictionary defines it as;

on a streak or series, usually a winning streak. Will sometimes be used semi-sarcastically to define a losing streak. ex. The market went up 14% in the least four weeks. The market is on a tear! –

And, Google Ngram shows that the usages of both ‘on a tear’ and ‘in a tear’ have been observed since early before 1840. The incidences of ‘on a tear’ is on rise from 0.000001 in 1970 to 0.0000025 after 2000 and onward, but incidences of 'in a tear' have been flattened out at the low level of 0.0000012 – 0.0000016 throughout the tracked period.

Now here are my questions:

  1. What is the plain and exact meaning of ‘on (in) a tear’ in the context of the above quote?
  2. Is ‘on (in) a tear’ a popular idiom?
  3. Why none of major English dictionaries such as CED, OED, OALED, MWED accommodates this phrase as an idiom in spite of a long presence of the phrase as shown in Google NGram?

Addendum:

The Barrons’ magazine seems to be fond of using "on a tear." It repeated this phrase again in its June 19 news-report (through AFN radio broadcast) reporting a marked improvement of U.S.'s largest closeout chain, Big Lots’ sales performance. It says

(the chain’s) Sales growth in Canada is on a tear. Any signs of the progress will likely allure investors back to Big Lots.

Best Answer

In a tear (or on a tear) does appear in OED:

3b. A spree (U.S. slang).

1896 Harper's Mag. Apr. 775/2 Got me off on a tear somehow, and by the time I was sober again the money was 'most all gone.

and

Draft additions 1993

A spree; in Sport, a successful run, a winning streak; esp. in phr. on a tear. U.S. slang.

The quote may be explained as

Foot Locker is proving that expansion isn’t everything. The sneaker chain’s sales per square foot have been rocketing even as the company’s store count shrinks. That’s done wonders for Foot Locker’s profit margins and stock price.

As to your other questions, the answer is that in a tear in that sense is probably not all that common, which is why it's not included in dictionaries. Google Ngrams may be misleading, because a large number of results will be for the lachrymal tear-stained or for a literal tear (=split, rent).