Word Confusion: Tack versus Tact

Posted June 9, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Even though part of the definition for tack is “a method of dealing with a situation or problem”, and would seem to be the same as tact‘s polite way of dealing with a situation or problem, tack is a direction in which to choose to be tactful.

Tack has a great many meanings — most of them being about direction — but others involve fastening, physical items — and verbs!

Tact itself is about manners, being polite and considerate.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Word Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

Tack Tact
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Hunt in Annadel

Image by Robin Mathias [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A saddle is part of the tack used in riding a horse.

Nineteenth century moving depiction of an eighteenth century couple bowing and curtsying to each other).

Image courtesy of Trialsanderrors from the the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of tact is being polite.

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1, 2; Mass Noun 3;
Verb, intransitive & transitive

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: tacks
Past tense or past participle: tacked
Gerund or present participle: tacking

Small, sharp, broad-headed nail

  • Thumbtack

Long stitch used to fasten fabrics together temporarily, prior to permanent sewing

Method of dealing with a situation or problem

  • Course of action or policy

[Sailing] An act of changing course by turning a vessel’s head into and through the wind, so as to bring the wind on the opposite side

  • A boat’s course relative to the direction of the wind
  • Distance sailed between such changes of course

[Sailing] A rope for securing the weather clew of a course

  • The weather clew of a course, or the lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail

Quality of being sticky

Equipment used in horseback riding, including the saddle and bridle 2

Mass Noun 3:
[Informal] Cheap, shoddy, or tasteless material

Verb, intransitive:
[Sailing] Change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind

  • To make a series of changes of course while sailing

Verb, transitive:
Fasten or fix in place with tacks

  • Fasten pieces of cloth together temporarily with long stitches
  • [Tack something on] Add or append something to something already existing

[Sailing] Change course by turning a boat’s head into and through the wind

  • Alter the course of a sailboat

To equip a horse with tack

Adroitness and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues
He sat on a tack.

As she could not stop him from going, she tried another tack and insisted on going with him.

The brig bowled past on the opposite tack.

Cooking the sugar to caramel gives tack to the texture.

Put that tack up when you’re back from your ride.

Mass Noun:
Where ever did you find that tack?

Verb, intransitive:
She spent the entire night tacking back and forth.

He ordered us to tack at once.

Can you tack my horse up quickly?

Verb, transitive:
He used the tool to tack down sheets of fiberboard.

She tacked the side seams together.

He had long-term savings plans with some life insurance tacked on.

You should tack that rug down.

The inspector broke the news to me with tact and consideration.

That guy has no tact, breaking up with her like that!

Adjective: tackie, tackless, tacky, tackier, tackiest, ticky-tack, ticky-tacky
Adverb: tackily
Noun: tacker, tackiness
Adjective: tactful, tactless
Adverb: tactfully, tactlessly
Noun: tactfulness, tactlessness
History of the Word:
1 Middle English (in the general sense that something that fastens one thing to another
It’s probably related to the Old French tache, meaning clasp, large nail.

2 Late 18th century and originally dialect in the general sense of apparatus, equipment.
Shortening of tackle.
The noun sense dates from the 1920s.

3 1980s.
A back-formation from tacky, meaning showing poor taste and quality.

Mid-17th century and denoting the sense of touch. Via the French from the Latin tactus, meaning touch, a sense of touch, from tangere, meaning to touch.

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C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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