The Angry Grammarian

Till, Soiled.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Dec. 10, 2008

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Are you telling me "until" can now be shortened to "till," as you did in last week's column? That makes me want to vomit in horror.

Prepositions aren't often known to cause such violent physical reactions; maybe your body is reacting to a grammatical imbalance instead?

"Until" has always been a problem preposition. It stubbornly refuses to pass the handy dog-and-the-box test for whether a word is a preposition. (You know, if it makes sense--the dog is in the box, the dog is on the box, the dog is behind the box, etc.--then it's a preposition. That dog and his stupid box totally got me through the sixth grade.) And it so easy to shorten ... but how? Till or 'til?

Most grammar rules are for the reader's sake. You want to make them do as little heavy lifting as possible. If you can say it more precisely and more concisely, do it.

But every once in a while we've got to throw the writers a bone too, don't you think? And writing "'til"--with its troublesome backward apostrophe--takes way, way too long now that we're slaves to computers. First you have to type a dummy character. Then you have to type the apostrophe. Then you hit the back arrow. Then delete. Then forward arrow. That's five keystrokes just to get one little apostrophe angled correctly.

We could blame this one on Bill Gates, because he didn't make Microsoft Word smart enough to figure out how apostrophes are supposed to be angled. But we're already blaming him for the excessive C in "schlep," and we should be a little charitable during this holiday season.

So forget Gates. There's the even bigger issue that "until" isn't supposed to be abbreviated with "'til"--"till" is correct. Check out the Oxford English Dictionary: Almost every bloody entry for "until" is marked with an all-caps "=TILL." No apostrophes found.

So vomit all over the OED if you must, but I don't think the Brits would find that too polite.

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1. John Weaver said... on Dec 10, 2008 at 03:49PM

“Hello Angry Grammarian Well, here I am again, surfing the net in my wine induced haze, when I thought "Why not check out that Angry Grammarian at the "Philadelphia Enquirer?". Why not, indeed. You can imagine my surprise as an elderly Brit, of modest technical education, discovering that the Enquirer's Top Man in English is hell bent on continuing the mangling of our native tongue! All this argument about the correct way to abbreviate "until"? Must be desperate to fill column inches (sorry - column cms) is my reaction. 'hy 'his 'session in the good old 'S of A with 'sspelling 'ords and 'placing the 'opped 'tters with 'postrophes? Talk about "Toys R Us"! Until I read this article the idea of abbreviating "until" barely registered on my radar. Certainly, I have never come across it in conversation with my British and English speaking European acquaintances (none posh, I assure you), and can only imagine it existing in written form by an author intending to imply semi-literacy in the speaker. I suspect your reference to the OED was something of a cop out (that's English slang). Just accept that you speak American, and quote from an American dictionary. As that old cigar smoker said, we are "'wo 'ations 'eperated by a 'ommon 'anguage". Kind regards Old Fart Retired in Spain”

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