Truncating tongues


Can a tongue truncate? Well, yes, in a manner of speaking, and it is the very act of speaking that actually creates the truncations I’m writing about today.

Truncation, I’m sure you know, is cutting off something. When you truncate a word, you cut part of it off. Unless you are the most formal and stuffy person on earth, you truncate words all the time when you speak. Probably the only time you wouldn’t truncate a word or two when you talk is when you’re trying to teach someone how to speak your language, in which case, your listener needs to hear every syllable you say.

The less formally you speak, the more you are apt to truncate, which is fine. You just have to be careful about how you transfer those spoken truncations to the written word.

What do I mean? Well, again, if you’re a very formal person,  you’re not going to truncate your words. In that last sentence alone, you can see that I’m not very formal in this post, because I truncated twice.

Did you catch it?

I truncated the word “are” by cutting off the “a” and replacing it with an apostrophe as I mashed it up against the word “you.” The “you” and the “are” in that sentence, if spoken, would have been said in such quick succession that they would have sounded as if they created one word. There is no such word as “youare,” though, so the sound is represented as “you’re,” and everyone knows what that means.

Now, what prompted me to write about truncations today is a book title I saw. Yes, a book title, which, in my mind, means some major publishing house needs to fire an editorial team. I’m not going to drop anyone in the grease by telling you the book title here, but suffice it to say that those editors have an interesting notion of what “till the end of time” could possibly mean.

“Till” the end of time. God help me, let’s look at the word “till” in some of its forms.

  • Till the soil.” In this instance, “till” is a verb. A person who “tills” soil will use some sort of tool to dig up earth, cultivate it, get it ready to receive seeds or plants.
  • “Fill the till in the cash register.” Here, “till” is a thing, a noun. A till is a part of a cash register that has various sized compartments that separate different denominations and types of money.
  • Glaciers melted and left till upon the land. As glaciers melt or retreat, they leave behind massive jumbles of rock, gravel, and dirt that compose moraines. Those materials, taken together, are called “till.” Again, a noun.
  • “Till” the end of time . . . Can you think of what “till” could mean in this instance? It doesn’t refer to any physical thing. It also doesn’t refer to any kind of an action, does it? Of course not. The problem with “till” in this instance is that the word is misspelled. The real word, the truncated word, is ” ‘-t-i-l”.

Notice that there is an apostrophe before the “t” to indicate a part of the word is missing.

The full word is “until.” It’s a preposition that represents the continuance of something. “Until the end of time” is the correct, full phrase. When spoken, “until” is often truncated so that only the last syllable is heard, which is fine. When written, however, if the writer doesn’t want to look like an idiot, the word should be either completely spelled out or written in its truncated form.

Can you see how people are making this error? It’s an easy one to make.

“Could have” is another phrase that’s easy to get wrong while writing. Say, “could have” out loud. Now, say it quickly. How does it sound? Sounds like “could of,” doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen writers write “could of.” Makes me crazy, especially when the writer is a media colleague, or worse, in the teaching profession.

There’s really no excuse for getting these truncations wrong. Truly. No excuse.

Writers, editors, I’m talking to you.

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