Till vs. ’til

Blog post by Victoria Doose

I was in a restaurant over spring break when I saw this on the napkin holders:

I’m really tempted to address the quotation marks around the bottom sentence since the improper use of quotation marks drives me insane…but what I want to talk about right now is the use of till in this advertisement. I have always been bothered by the use of till as an abbreviation of until. It seems logical to me that it should actually be abbreviated ’til, with an apostrophe placed to indicate that the first two letters of the word have been dropped. I mean, doesn’t that make sense?

So my original intention with this post was to rant about the improper use of till as a shortening of until. But it turns out it’s not so wrong after all.

Both until and till are old words in the English language, but apparently the latter is the older of the two. Interestingly, then, this means that instead of till being derived from until — whether improperly done or not — until is the derived form. Till in this sense isn’t an abbreviation at all: it’s a word unto itself. It has basically the same meaning as the word to, so it works just fine in its common modern use concerning time periods — for instance, “I’ll work till 8:00 p.m.”

‘Till showed up a lot later as a sort of back-correction by people (like me) who believed till was an improperly formed abbreviation. They took my logical approach and dropped the first two letters of until, putting an apostrophe in their places, but it seems this was an unnecessary measure. They corrected something that apparently wasn’t wrong to begin with, producing an entirely new form of a word for the purpose of informal usage.

A fellow WordPress blogger says that using till vs. ’til is a choice, and Michael Quinion writes that many style guides consider ’til the error form, not till. In any case, ’til is the most recent construct and is only acceptable in informal situations — and always with the apostrophe!

Back to my original photographic example: it looks like “from opening till 11:00 am” is actually correct. However, what I’m still not sure of is whether, in light of all this, it’s actually correct to use till in instances of indefinite time or not, as in: “I’ll work till it’s done.” Considering till is used in the same way as to, it doesn’t really make sense: “I’ll work to it’s done” simply doesn’t work. Perhaps I’ve missed some information, though…someone feel free to pick up where I’ve left off.

One response to “Till vs. ’til

  1. Wow, I’m really glad to know all this now! I, too, was one of those people who rejected using “till” in writing because I thought it was a faulty abbreviation of “until.” In particular, I thought it was absurd that someone would form an abbreviation a word by removing two letters from the front and adding one to the back. Thanks for clearing all this up, now I’m ready to embrace “till” in my writing!

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