Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: tack; tact.

In sailing, a “tack” is a change in course made by turning the vessel or the sail so that the wind strikes the other side of the sail. To change “tack,” then, is to change course. Sometimes writers using this idiom pick the more familiar “tact” (= discretion, diplomacy), possibly because the idiom suggests an unrelated but similar word (changing “tactics”) — e.g.: o “Rumsfeld, Ashcroft Take Different Tact [read ‘Tack’] on Enemy.” Headline, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9 Dec. 2001, at B2. o “Or if the administration wants to take a radically different tact [read ‘tack’] on financial matters, it could hire Jill Q. Baer, the creative services director of the Maryland State Lottery Agency.” Rob Blackwell et al., “Washington People,” Am. Banker, 29 Apr. 2002, at 4. o “He tries to explain, telling her it’s the U.S. Open venue. She mistakenly thinks he’s playing in the Open. After a deep breath, he tries a different tact [read ‘tack’].” Rich Cimini, “Getting Tee Time on Bethpage’s Black Doesn’t Happen Overnight,” Daily News (N.Y.), 19 May 2002, at 98. Language-Change Index — “tact” misused for “tack”: Stage 1. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The finest conception may be completely ruined by a crude expression of it.” Henry Bett, Some Secrets of Style 248-49 (1932).
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