For Want Of A Letter … Tic, Tick

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Sometimes the inclusion or omission of a single letter can completely change the meaning of your word, phrase or sentence. Take the word tic, for example. It’s a noun that refers to those visible twitches that suggest nervousness or stress. Merriam Webster defines it as: ‘a local and habitual spasmodic motion of particular muscles especially of the face’. It is believed to originate from the French phrase tic douloureux which refers to the same phenomenon.

The word has also come to refer to, as Merriam Webster puts it, ‘a frequent usually unconscious quirk of behavior or speech’. If you add a particular phrase to the end of every sentence or compulsively lick your lips when you’ve finished speaking, this would be a tic.

However, I have often seen tic misspelled as tick. Tick has several meanings , none of them referring to facial, verbal or behavioral mannerisms. The meanings of the noun tick include:

  • a bloodsucking arachnid (such as the ones found on dogs)
  • a wingless parasitic fly
  • a mattress casing
  • a light, rhythmical tap
  • the beat of a clock
  • a check mark on a list
  • an abbreviation of ticket (hence the British expression, on tick, meaning on credit)

Meanings of the verb to tick include:

  • to make the sound of a tick (like a clock)
  • to run (as in to operate or work in a certain way)
  • to mark with a tick (written)
  • to check off

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4 thoughts on “For Want Of A Letter … Tic, Tick”

  1. Sharon,
    I thought of this post when I came across this today:

    “There are about 25 million Americans who develop grotesque facial ticks when they hear the words ‘9 to 5.’ . . . We call them freelancers.” — N. Killihanm, The Washington Post, May 23, 1989

    Those facial ticks can be pretty painful!

  2. People who knit pic really tick me off. Or should that be tic me off? There. Now that I’ve said that, I can go back to my knitting.

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