Till ’til Until

Here’s a good one. Until or Till? Till or ‘til?

After a particularly well-tilled transcript came through the UK Transcript Solutions Ltd office this week, we got into a discussion about till vs ‘til. Till looks like a proper word, but ‘til must be valid as well, mustn’t it? It has an apostrophe to account for the missing letters and everything!

A little rooting around turned up something very interesting indeed – ‘til is short for until. Until is long for till. What?

This is a rare case where even the dictionaries disagree – Cambridge Dictionary tells us that “Until is often shortened to till or ’til”, and Oxford Dictionaries records till as a “less formal way of saying until”. Both note that till is regarded as less formal, but Oxford gives us an interesting fact: There is several hundred years’ difference between the first recordings of until and till, and till is the older form.

This means that till isn’t a shortening of until at all, and ‘til is… Where did that come from? What happened?

Till, by the Online Etymology Dictionary, has always been the same – it comes from Old English til, then from Old Norse til, so on and so forth. Until is similar, but at some point it picked up Middle English un- (“against, toward; up to”). So basically, it means ‘up to until’ – pretty much two of the same word!

As we can see in dictionaries today, people still picked up until as a more formal version (it must be, it’s longer!), so people started to assume it came first. And if till is a sloppy abbreviation of the real word, it must need something to show that the un is missing, right? Along comes ‘til, ever popular, but apparently just a consistent mistake based on a false etymology.

(Honourable mention to ‘till, too, which really is just an error.)

So there we have it – the debate is settled for us here at UKTS. Until now we were unclear, but from here on we’ll be sticking with until and till.

Till next time!

Rachel and the UKTS Ltd Team