Word Confusion: Track versus Tract

Posted February 19, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

One little letter makes all the difference in this, track it, you’ll see. Track is easy enough, although I was surprised at how many variations existed for it. At its heart, track is a path whether filmstrips, electrons, rubber belts, or feet are following, it makes no difference.

Tract has always meant one thing to me: a huge chunk of suburbia with houses jammed cheek by jowl and all looking alike. So it was a pleasant surprise to be reminded of the other possibilities, although I can do without the religious pamphlet.

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.

Track Tract
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

Track cycling

Image courtesy of Biopresto via Wikimedia Commons

2005 Canadian Track Cycling Championships in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

A street of lookalike houses

Image by Alexcaban at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Tract houses crammed together.

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1; Verb, intransitive & transitive 2a Noun 3, 4
Rough path or minor road

Prepared course or circuit

Mark or line of marks left by a person, animal, or vehicle in passing

[Figurative] Course of action, a way of proceeding

Continuous line of rails on a railroad

Metal or plastic strip or rail from which a curtain or spotlight may be hung or fitted

Continuous articulated metal band around the wheels of a heavy vehicle

[Electronics] Continuous line of copper or other conductive material

[Nautical] Strip on the mast, boom, or deck of a yacht along which a slide attached to a sail can be moved, used to adjust the position of the sail

Section of a record, CD, cassette containing one song or piece of music

Soundtrack of a film or video

Transverse distance between a vehicle’s wheels

Group in which schoolchildren of the same age and ability are taught

Verb, intransitive:
Follow a particular course

Move in relation to the subject being filmed

Leave a trail of dirty footprints on a surface

Leave a trail of dirt, debris, or snow from one’s feet

Wheels run so that the back ones are exactly in the print of the front ones

[Electronics] Of a tunable circuit or component vary in frequency in the same way as another circuit or component

Assign a student to a course of study according to ability

Verb, transitive:
Follow the course or trail of someone or something to find them or note their location

[Figurative] Follow and note the course or progress of something

Tow a boat along a waterway from the bank 2a

Noun: 3
An area of indefinite extent, typically large

[Poetic/literary] Indefinitely large extent of something

Major passage in the body, a large bundle of nerve fibers, or other continuous elongated anatomical structure or region

Short treatise in pamphlet form, typically on a religious subject

Noun: 4
Similar houses built on a large area of land

We’ll follow the track into the woods.

We’re going to the race track.

He followed the tracks made by the wheels in the snow.

Defense budgeting and procurement do not move along different tracks from defense policy as a whole.

Use a curtain track to hang the beads.

Tanks use tracks to get over rough ground.

The CD has twelve tracks.

Verb, intransitive:
The camera eventually tracked away.

Little Mary tracked in mud from playing outside.

Verb, transitive:
Secondary radars that track the aircraft in flight.

He tracked Anna to her room.

Noun: 3
National parks are large tracts of natural forest.

Your mouth is the beginning of your digestive tract.

Noun: 4
After World War II, tract houses were erected to accommodate the huge influx of soldiers discharged from the military.

Adjective: trackable
Noun: trackability, tracker
Verb: multitrack, retrack
History of the Word:
Late 15th century in the sense of trail, marks left behind.

1 From the Old French trac, perhaps from Low German or Dutch trek meaning drawing, pull

2 Today’s interpretation dates from the mid 16th century from the French traquer or directly from the noun.

2a Early 18th century and apparently from the Dutch trekken meaning to draw, pull, or travel.

Late Middle English

3 Late Middle English in the sense of a duration or course (of time)

From the Latin tractus meaning drawing, dragging from trahere which means draw, pull.

Early 19th century – specifically a religious work

4 Late Middle English denoting a written work treating a particular topic), a possible abbreviation of Latin tractatus.

The current sense dates from the early 19th century.

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

Return to top