Editing, Writing

Word Wednesday: Till

I’ve recently been schooled about this word in a big way. There’s a growing trend among writers (at least, I guess it’s growing…I’ve never noticed it before and, in recent months, evidence of it seems to be increasing) to use the word “till,” as in “I didn’t know you could use ’till’ in this way till I looked it up in the dictionary.”

Each time I saw that word being used in that way, I would automatically change it to “until” because I thought it was an incorrect usage of the noun/verb “till”, meaning:

  1. A cash register or drawer for money in a store, bank, or restaurant.
  2. Boulder, clay or other unstratified sediment deposited by melting glaciers or ice sheets.
  3. To prepare and cultivate (land) for crops.

I knew that my authors didn’t mean to say anything of that sort based on the context of the passage, but I was truly confused as to why they used the word “till” instead of the word “until”…or even its abbreviation, “’til.”

The word “until” means, of course:

  1. Up to the time that or when; till.
  2. Before (usually used in negative constructions); i.e., They did not come until the meeting was half over.
  3. Onward to or till (a specified time or occurrence); i.e., She worked until 6 p.m.
  4. To; unto. (Chiefly British)

The more I saw it, the more it got under my skin…kind of like the “I should of had a V-8” mistake that gets published A LOT in mainstream fiction. Why, I don’t know, but that’s a post idea for another day…

And, the more I saw it, the more I wondered if, in fact, there was something to all this. By chance, was I the one who was wrong, and all these authors were the ones who were right? As it turns out, my irritation was based on my own ignorance! OUCH!

Look again at the definitions for “until”. See the words in bold? Yeah…”till”! Turns out, both of those words actually do mean the same thing.

So, like I usually do when I have a question about something, I turned to the Internet for help. There are a lot of conversations about the usage of “till”, “’til”, and “until”. Here’s what some other people have to say about the differences (or lack of differences) between the three:

Grammar Girl: Until, Till, and ‘Til – I love Grammar Girl. LOVE her! She’s one of my heroes. I kind of wish I could BE Grammar Girl–no, really!

Motivated Grammar: Til v. till v. ’til v. until – What strikes me the most about this post (other than the super-cool blog title Motivated Grammar) is that it was published in 2007 – FIVE years ago. I’ve been an editor for at least TWICE that long…and this was new to me!

World Wide Words: Until, Till, and ‘Til – Just to pour salt into my gaping, oozing pride wound, I found THIS post. It’s even older than the Motivated Grammar post. Yikes! At this point, I’m really starting to wonder why no one ever told me about this.

I’ve been writing papers, books, articles, etc. since 1992 (well, really, before that…that’s just when people started to really READ and critique what I was writing). Twenty years, and no one ever bothered to tell me, “Hey, you know, there’s another way you can say ‘until’.”

But I guess that was because I technically wasn’t being incorrect in using “until” or “’til.” All three seem to be accepted forms of the same idea…I was just VERY incorrect in insisting that “till” be changed to “until” (or “’til”). And now I know, so I won’t make that mistake again.

Moral of the Story? Your editor is human…Humans aren’t perfect. Editors try to be, and we try to help you and your writing be perfect, but we ALL make mistakes!

Now, a question for you: What’s your preferred term? Till, ’til, or until? Put it in the comments below!

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