[Note: A May 30, 2022, post discusses the history of “ ’til,” “till,” and “until.”]
Q: My pet peeve is the use of the word till to mean until. Isn’t ’til the correct contraction of until? I see it all the time (and I mean all the time) spelled till, which makes me think of working the soil. Am I wrong? I can’t rest ’til I know.
A: I’m sorry, but you are wrong. Both till and until are legitimate words.
Historically, in fact, till came first. Later, un was added and the final l dropped, giving us until.
In modern usage, they’re interchangeable, though until is more common at the beginning of a sentence.
So it’s not correct that till is a shortening of until. Rather, until is a lengthening of till.
Where did ’til come from? It all began in the 18th century when writers muddied the waters by creating ’till and ’til under the mistaken assumption they were contractions of until. Not so.
The word ’til (with or without an apostrophe in front to indicate an omission) is etymologically incorrect, and frowned on by many usage writers.
However, some standard dictionaries now accept ’til as a variant spelling of till. As The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.), explains:
“Although ’till is now nonstandard, ’til is sometimes used in this way and is considered acceptable, though it is etymologically incorrect.”
[This post was updated on Oct. 17, 2015.]