TACK, Not Tact

The verbalization of nouns has been running amok, and even the word tact is currently being verbed when used as a gerund (a verb ending in -ing). Heard recently on the tube: “He had no choice but to start tacting to the center.” In his choice of words, this talking head was in league with the growing number of people who unwittingly confuse tact with tack.

A sailing term, tack means to quickly turn a yacht so that it conforms to the direction of the wind. But it is more often used metaphorically, and by sailors and landlubbers alike:

tack 1. to modify one’s policy or attitude abruptly; 2. to follow a zigzag course

Herewith the definition of the noun the verb tack is most decidedly not:

tact the ability to do or say things without offending other people


Night and day, wouldn’t you say? You betcha, and all the more reason to home in on* the distinction between the verb tack and the similar-sounding noun.

*See HOME, Not Hone

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