Word Confusion: Taught vs Taut vs Tot

Posted May 29, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Revised as of 11 October 2017

Well, I suppose one could confuse these two… Especially if teachers make you really nervous…

I just ran across a sentence in a novel — “her nipples were taught and rigid…”. Hmmm, taught…what did they learn? Well, I’m guessing that nipples can learn. If they can be taught, obviously they must be capable of learning. So, what do y’all think? What could a nipple learn?

And with one jolt of a couple of letters, that erotic scene has collapsed in my brain. All I can think of is teaching something to a nipple.

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.

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I wouldn’t normally associate tots with tight rope, but a writer obviously did when she wrote about tot rope. I know she wasn’t talking about a jump rope, so I figured I’d better add this confusion to the array.

Taught Taut Tot
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

“School Life in Wartime England”, 1941, by Ministry of Information Photo Division photographer is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Even during war, students must be taught.

“Sailors Keep a Line Tight” is an Official Navy Page from United States of America with this photograph taken by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin F. Johnson/U.S. Navy. It is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

They’re keeping this line taut!

Toddler in a high chair smeared with green goop

“Messy Toddler” is Larali21’s own work and is under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons

That’s one messy tot!

Part of Grammar:
Past tense and past participle for: teach

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Third person present verb: teaches
Gerund or present participle: teaching

Adjective Noun 1
Verb, intransitive 2 & transitive 3

Noun plural and third person present verb: tots
Past tense or past participle: totted
Gerund or present participle: totting

Verb, intransitive:
Show or explain to someone how to do something

  • Give such instruction professionally

Verb, transitive:
Show or explain to someone how to do something

  • Give information about or instruction in a subject or skill
  • Encourage someone to accept something as a fact or principle
  • Cause someone to learn or understand something by example or experience
  • [Informal] Make someone less inclined to do something
Stretched or pulled tight

Not slack

  • [Especially of muscles or nerves] Tense, not relaxed

[Of writing, music, etc.] Concise and controlled

[Of a ship] Having a disciplined and efficient crew

A very young child

[Chiefly British] A small amount of a strong alcoholic drink such as whiskey or brandy

Verb, intransitive:
[Frequently used as a noun; British; informal] Salvage salable items from dustbins or rubbish heaps.2

Verb, transitive:
[Tot something up; chiefly British] Add up numbers or amounts

  • Accumulate something over a period of time
Verb, intransitive:
She taught at the local high school.

Verb, transitive:
She taught him to read.

He taught me how to ride a bike.

He came one day each week and taught painting.

She taught me French.

She taught at the local high school.

The philosophy taught self-control.

She’d been taught that it paid to be passive.

My upbringing taught me never to be disrespectful to elders.

He was taught to not mess with young girls!

That taught him a lesson!

The fabric stays taut without adhesive.

His muscles were taut with tension.

It was a taut text of only a hundred and twenty pages.

The rope should be taut with no give.

It was a taut ship with a well-disciplined crew.

Let’s give some games to Toys for Tots.

Pour me a tot of brandy, old man.

Verb, intransitive:
Local authorities frown on totting and many ban it outright.

The American version of totting is dumpster-diving.

Verb, transitive:
He has already totted up 89 victories.

Has he totted up the receipts yet?

Adjective: half-taught, well-taught
Noun: teacher
Verb: overtaught, pretaught, retaught, undertaught
Adjective: tauter, tautest, untaut
Adverb: tautly, untautly
Noun: tautness, untautness
Verb: tauten
Adjective: untotted
History of the Word:
Old English tǣcan meaning show, present, or point out is of Germanic origin and related to token, from an Indo-European root shared by Greek deiknunai meaning show and the Latin dicere say. Middle English tought meaning distended; perhaps originally a variant of tough. 1 Early 18th century was originally dialect and of unknown origin.

2 Late 19th century from the slang tot meaning bone and is of unknown origin.

3 Mid1-8th century from the archaic tot meaning a set of figures to be added up from an abbreviation of total or of the Latin totum meaning the whole.

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

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Pinterest Photo Credits

Cognac Glass is Didier Descouens’ own work under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons. “What is Your Festish/Fixation?” in a post by Krista Kitteh at Sodahead.