Thursday, March 23, 2017

'Tis Not 'Til

So I was thumbing through The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and I came across this interesting little tidbit:

Serious writers avoid the word 'til as an alternative to until. The correct word is till, which is many centuries older than until. 

Have I been doing it wrong for, like, ever?

The English language is in a constant state of evolution. New words are being added all the time and uses fall into and out of favour. Think about groovy from the sixties. It was a common and accepted colloquialism for a short time before being replaced with rad, cool, awesome, sweet, etc. as new generations of (particularly) youth adopted their own expressions. Try as I might to resurrect groovy to its proper place (IMO) as a spectacular way to express appreciation, awesome continues to assert itself. Though, to be frank, it is wearing thin and is being usurped by other bits of vernacular that, I fear, I am somewhat long in the tooth to either grasp or exercise with any plausible propriety. I suspect that, as the generation gap widens ever further, I will soon be relegated to smiling and nodding and saying, "That's nice."

But I digress...

My research into this bold-faced assertion that 'til is incorrect led me to The Grammar Grater, a podcast by Luke Taylor, featured on  MPRNews. In episode #72, Luke answers a listener's question on this very topic - paraphrased here: Is 'til an actual and acceptable alternative to until?

The short answer is no.

This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic of this blog.
But finding a photo that represents until, till & 'til proved to be impossible,
so I am presenting this one as an example of a homograph.
This is (also) a till.
The word until did not appear in the English language until the Middle English period (1066 to the mid-1500s). It is a contraction of two Scandinavian syllables - un and till - that meant the same thing. My theory is that someone unfamiliar with the Scandinavian uses of these short syllables was confused by the redundancy and so smashed them together and injected them into his or her native English as a single word. Weirdly, till had already been around for a long time - since before the 9th century - and was a regular part of Old English. That it derived from Scandinavian in the first place appears to have been lost on the Middle English speakers that opted to adopt until into the lexicon.

As for 'til, it appears to have appeared within the last century as an attempt to contract until under the erroneous assumption that till is more recent than until and is meant to be the contraction. Just as one would not spell don't without the apostrophe, how could one contract until without an apostrophe? And where did that extra l come from? This is the problem with English; the etymology gets lost and all hell breaks loose!

So 'til crept in, an uninvited guest with bad manners that has tracked mud throughout the halls of linguistic wonder. While it does appear in the Oxford English Dictionary and is defined as meaning until, it is not generally accepted by experts as a proper alternative for until. Strictly speaking, till or until are both correct and 'til is not. Still, 'til gets some grudging acknowledgment as long as the apostrophe is in place.  However, if you are a "serious" writer, you will avoid it.

And as a serious editor, I will suggest that it be replaced with till or until until further notice!

(Straus, J (2014). The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation: An easy-to-use Guide with Clear Rules, Real-World Examples, and Reproducible Quizzes (p. 40) Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA)

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