Thursday, September 18, 2014

Soapbox Series #9 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- Till, Until, and 'Til

Grammar Girl says she regularly gets questions about the differences between till, until, and 'til, and how to use them.

I say: ????? And when exactly did this "'til" thing come about?

'Til is apparently in the process of becoming accepted (shudder), but it is a totally unnecessary word. I think I know what happened: somewhere along the line people began to assume that "till" (as they heard it pronounced, not necessarily as they spelled it) was an abbreviation for "until," and they couldn't figure out why you wouldn't spell that as 'til. But till and until are actually separate words that are synonymous. Yes, till is a noun meaning cash register and a verb meaning to work the ground (lesser known, it's also a noun meaning a glacial drift or a stiff clay), but its #1 function and definition in my dictionary is as a preposition meaning "up to the time of; before; until." Of the two words, till is actually older. Until came later. 'Til came, well, way, way later, and, I believe, under mistaken circumstances. We don't need it. We already have the one-syllable form till, which is not an abbreviation.

The Associated Press Stylebook recommends till or until, but not 'til. Bryan A. Garner, of LawProse calls 'til a "little virus," and his quotes of several other usage guides includes this: "'Til is a variant spelling used by those who think (incorrectly) that till is a clipped form."

I'm pretty open to changes in the English language. I'll go pretty far with verbing nouns, and I think "they" and "them" will become standard singular pronouns for a person of unknown gender within my lifetime. But 'til -- nah. It's going to be a long time till I can go there.

14 comments:

Vijaya said...

I'm giggling at your title with 'riting. It can go hang out with 'til the cows come home.

Marcia said...

Vijaya -- LOL, enforce one rule just to break another, huh?

Kelly Hashway said...

I always use until. I'm not sure I've even said til or till. ;)

Mirka Breen said...

Grammarian Marcia, I need you in my ear, always. Come on over and keep me company. :)

When non-standard linguistic usages are deliberate, they are part of the voice. Whether that part is working is another matter. Sadly most of my faux-pas are not deliberate.

janet smart said...

Interesting. I guess I have been doing it wrong all along. I never use till in that way - I associate till with cultivating of the ground (I have always lived in rural and farm areas). I usually use until or 'til in my writing. But, the only time I would use 'til is in dialogue.

Marcia said...

Kelly -- Sometimes picking at things like this helps us realize what our own voice is, and how we might distinguish voices in characters.

Mirka -- *scoots next to Mirka* :)

Janet -- I learned both till and until in elementary school, that they were separate words and one of the definitions of "till" is "until," and I guess it sank in. :)

cleemckenzie said...

No doubt about it, language is a-changing. Just think if it didn't. Thou woulds't be writing anon and such.
:-)

Stephanie Faris said...

'Til makes the most sense, since it's short for until and there's only one "l" in that word. But it's interesting to me how words come into acceptance over time. When I saw they modified the dictionary to state that "literally" can also mean an exaggeration and doesn't have to mean LITERALLY, I gave up hope for our language! Especially since the Kardashians seem to be the ones who made the abuse of the word literally a national phenomenon.

Janet Johnson said...

So funny! I didn't not know this about 'til/till/until. I confess, I may have used 'til a time or two because I was among that mistaken group of people. :)

Marcia said...

Lee -- It does, and I enjoy rolling with *most* of the changes.

Stephanie -- I didn't know that about literally, but I guess I'm not surprised.

Janet -- A few months ago, I had to go look up what I'd been taught about "till," since I was beginning to think it was all a dream. After all, back in 4th grade I once had "alot" as a spelling word, and I wish I were kidding.

Medeia Sharif said...

I've never used 'til.

I always use one or s/he. I have a hard time saying they or them.

Marcia said...

Medeia -- Oh, they/them! A whole new topic! Actually, I get that those are filling the need for non-gender pronouns, so I'll grant them higher status than 'til. :)

cathyso3 said...

This book sounds like a great read. Thanks!

cathyso3 said...

Oops! The above comment was meant for THE 14 FIBS OF GREGORY K.