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Till death do us part? Or 'til Tuesday?

What's the official usage skinny on till vs. 'til? I, Pacific Northwesterner, have always comfortably written till in places where a full until seemed clunky. I have found Tolkien using it all over the place in LOTR, which is good enough for me; and C.S. Lewis actually put it in a book title (Till We Have Faces). So why have my editors often systematically gone through and changed every till to 'til? I want to hold firm this time and resist.

The apostrophe irks me. I think it looks archaic and affected, like you're trying to write an Elizabethan sonnet. But that's just me, maybe, for I've noticed my editors are definitely not alone: the Wendy's chain, to name just one example, has put up mass-produced signs saying "Open 'til late."

Tolkien and Lewis were both British. Maybe "till" as a stand-alone preposition is fully accepted in the U.K., but only in some dialect groups of the U.S. Calling it a "dialect" issue isn't even accurate, though--it's strictly a written convention, "till" and "'til" being pronounced exactly the same way. Which looks right to you? And where are you from? Are you willing to let 'til throw off its apostrophe, brace itself with an extra L, and become a word in its own right? Stand and fight, little preposition! Be free!

[Edit: hah! I found at least one source to back me up. Says here:
'Till' is not a clipped version of 'until': both are Standard words. 'Until' may be considered a trifle more Formal, but both occur at all levels. ’Til is a variant spelling used by those who think (incorrectly) that 'till' is a clipped form. At best it looks old-fashioned and self-conscious. Use 'till' instead.

[Edit #2: The historical linguistics backs me up even more, at least to the degree that you can ever use a word's history to dictate modern usage. Says Michael Quinion:
The most common belief is that till is a shortened form of until. You can see how this could have grown up, but the truth of the matter is that till is by far the older word, being recorded from about the year 800, while it took another 400 years for until to appear in the language (it’s a compound of till with the archaic Old Norse und, as far as, which also survives in the archaic unto).


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 1st, 2005 12:17 pm (UTC)
Damn. I really like 'til. Possibly because I am a very affected person, but I just think it looks prettier than till. I also think scary looks better spelt with an "e" but strangely no one consulted me on these issues.
Feb. 1st, 2005 12:27 pm (UTC)
Well, none of this is law, but if you're editing my books, I'm going to lay down this rule as if it were. ;)
Feb. 1st, 2005 12:41 pm (UTC)
I suppose in the genre you're writing it might be different, but I always write out "until" unless I'm writing dialog. Then I switch between the two because "'Til" with the three lines looks retarded. But if it was in the middle of a sentence, I would probably write 'til.

/end random
Feb. 1st, 2005 06:17 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think part of the reason the apostrophe irks me is that it crowds up against quotation marks and gets lost. Thus I prefer freeing the "till."
Feb. 1st, 2005 01:13 pm (UTC)
I tend to use "'til", but I'm kinda "archaic and affected" like that. I'm from Florida, but I was raised by parents from the northeast. However, I only use it in casual writing like LiveJournal because generally, I've been encouraged not to shorten words or use contractions in academic writing. I guess I'm no help, but I think you should do what you want since it's your writing. You are an educated individual! Fight for your right to use "till"! :)
Feb. 1st, 2005 06:19 pm (UTC)
Hehe - well, I didn't mean any particular user was archaic and affected. As someone who always writes it "theatre" (but spells "center" and "color" and "program" the normal US ways), I have a few idiosyncratic habits myself. But in any case, I shall indeed use this edumacation to defend my "till"s from this day forth. Hurrah!

(Good to see you again, btw!)
Feb. 1st, 2005 02:04 pm (UTC)
Although I couldn't find a reference to the till/'til difference in Elements of Style, Mr. Strunk uses "till" in his explanations.

Feb. 1st, 2005 06:19 pm (UTC)
Even better. Plenty good enough for me. :)
Feb. 1st, 2005 02:20 pm (UTC)
I used to think it was "'til," and that "till" was just something people got away with in spell-checker because of the verb ("He needs to till the garden"). *shrugs* Look what ye learn!

Feb. 1st, 2005 06:21 pm (UTC)
Good point about the spellchecker--never can trust those! But, yeah, in this case it appears that we have a very long-standing preposition on our hands.
Feb. 2nd, 2005 06:18 am (UTC)
yeah... I always thought that till was it's own word and that 'til was a shortening of until. So I think both are ok, although the till would probably be more formal in writing.

although as a side bar I have had teachers cross the "till" off of my papers and say that it wasn't really a word, so I think that lots of people are confused on this one.....
Feb. 2nd, 2005 04:34 pm (UTC)
Ergh; using such things oneself is one thing, but correcting others without checking it out first is a no-no in my book.
Feb. 2nd, 2005 04:37 pm (UTC)
OMG.... That icon is fantastic..... I can't stop laughing!!!!!!!!

and yeah, I hate when people pull stunts like that too.
Feb. 2nd, 2005 07:03 pm (UTC)
A beloved prof. of mine would never allow us to use either till or 'til; he felt that neither had a place in formal writing unless one was quoting material. He claimed "until" was the proper way to turn a phrase - "We laughed *until* the cows came home" or "We danced until dawn" instead of the "We laughed 'til the cows came home" or "We danced till dawn." Alas, I view 'til as informal and only use it in dialogue if I use it at all; I seldom use till, favoring until over it. It suprises me that your editor would edit your work by replacing "till" with "'til" since most professionally edited prose (as of late) would have changed it to "until". *Shrug*
Feb. 3rd, 2005 08:10 am (UTC)
Going with "until" was the compromise route I took, though I think a few "'til"s may have slipped my net. It's a silly thing to be hung up on, undoubtedly (for my part at least as much as hers), especially since my writing for Scheherazade is barely "professional". :) (Compared to Tolkien, Lewis, and Strunk, at any rate...)
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )