Till, 'Til, Til, and Until

I can’t remember the song, but at church on a recent Sunday we sang a hymn that included the word ’til. Like many churches these days, we project the song lyrics onto a screen, and I’ve been asked, as a recognized linguistic authority (a.k.a., nit-picky grammar geek), to double-check the grammar and spelling. The use of ‘til got my attention. I was pretty sure the word should be simply till. But to be safe, I looked it up before I made the projector guy change it.

I was right. Sort of.

People use ‘til because they assume it’s an abbreviated form of until. They think that for poetic reasons or simple laziness, we somewhere along the line created a shortened version of until.

But, in fact, till, in the prepositional sense, is older than until, according to the OED. Until was later formed as a compound of und, Old Norse for up, and till, which originally meant simply to. So und till, later shortened to until, means up to.

That means there’s no need for ‘til as an abbreviated version of until, since till has always existed as a synonym. But the fact that there’s no need for it doesn’t mean we don’t use it. This is English, after all. Purists might be bothered that ‘til exists at all, but it has been so commonly used for so long as an alternative spelling of till that no dictionaries I know of consider it wrong.

I prefer till (as our projectionist has learned), but ‘til isn’t strictly wrong.

For those of you who want to say something is wrong, there is til. If you leave out the apostrophe indicating the missing letters, it’s wrong. I know that will make somebody happy.

‘Til next time…