Feb 6, 2011

Talkin' about Tact

by Marsha Ward

Let us go back to my series on the complexities of English, and how using it carelessly can leave us with egg on our faces, shall we?

I often see instances in written English where mistakes are made with our peculiar sayings, phrases that have been handed down from ages past; or in stringing words together that make no sense; or in using nearly the right word, but missing the mark. I'll revisit the pair in tact and intact, for an example of the second type of boo-boo. I merely brushed against it previously. Here's a more in depth look.

Tact is that delicate perception of the right thing to do or say without offending. I notice when it is used with the preposition in to form the odd phrase in tact instead of using the perfectly good adjective intact, meaning "unimpaired or uninjured, kept or left whole."

You might say I'm lacking in tact to even mention it, but I'd like my fellow travelers in the English-speaking world to keep the language intact, and use it carefully as we pass it down to the young.

I thought I'd mentioned the misuse of in lieu of before, but it seems I didn't. I've seen it misused for in view of. The first really means "instead of" or "in the place of." I chose to eat soup in lieu of salad.

In view of means "on account of;" "in consideration of."

In view of the shortage of time, each person may only speak for three minutes.

I recently saw in lieu of used instead of in light of. In lieu of just won't do in its place. In light of is similar to "due to," meaning (oddly enough) "in view of," or "because of."

In light of the flood damage discovered in the church building on Saturday, Sunday services will not be held at the chapel for about a month. One could easily use the phrase "due to" or "in view of" and maintain the same meaning.

Let's look at cases where the wrong word that sounds exactly like the one we want to use confuses us. Take chock and chalk, or stock and stalk, for instance (or do and due).

Chock has a couple of meanings. As a noun, it means a wedge or block placed under a wheel to keep it in place. You see this in movies about airplanes. You know, they have to pull the chocks out from the wheels before they take off to save the day. As an intransitive verb, it means the action of putting the chocks in place; to wedge fast. As an adverb, chock means as close or tight as can be. We often see it used as an adjective: chock-full.

Chalk is soft, whitish limestone. It's also that substance or similar used for writing on a blackboard, or green board (see that in old movies or TV, folks, especially if you grew up with white boards and washable markers); a piece of chalk. Adjective: made with chalk; verb: to mark or rub with chalk. When combined with "up," it means to score, get, or achieve: chalk up.

Okay, here's your assignment. Tell us the differences between stock and stalk. Use examples. Thank you.


  1. very interesting. I wonder what the etymology is behind these phrases?

  2. Stalk of celery, and chicken stock or broth, or buy soem stocks in the stock market.

  3. I love stuff like this.
    So, of course most familiar to most of us is a celery stalk--that's the one piece of celery, not the whole bunch. As a young bride I had to have that explained to me when I read a recipe that called for several stalks of celery, and wondered why it called for so much. Ah well.

    Dearer to my heart, though are the corn stalks--the whole corn plants, I grew up in the Midwest, and my place of solace was in a cornfield. I would go there and sit and reflect on whatever needed reflecting upon. As a matter of fact, I am in the process of painting a cornfield (from my vantage point inside) so that I can always have one available.

    Stock has many meanings--standard (stock car), the stuff that's traded on Wall Street, soup broth (beef, chicken or vegetable). As a verb it means to put product on shelves in a store or to lay in supplies.

    So, put a stalk of celery in your soup stock, and stock up for the cold weather!

    Thanks for the fun.

  4. Ha. The first "stalk" I thought of was to stalk someone, as in a stalker. Hmm. What does that say about me?
    I guess I'll just chalk it up to good ole' paranoia-- or is that chock?

  5. It's funny, I was thinking of "stock" and "stalk" before I got to the end of your post. Very recently, I was talking to an acquaintance about a stalker. I don't remember whom I was talking to, or the context of the conversation--only that I knew I was using the word "stalker" and was saying it with the "l" in the word--at least it sounded so in my mind, but I must have been enunciating the "l" too quietly. The person I was talking to thought I'd mistaken it for "stocker," because he started mocking me about "stocking" someone on a shelf, or some such nonsense.

    I was taken aback, and unsure of how to inform him that I did, in fact, know the difference between "stalker" and "stocker" and was using the correct word. I suppose I should be more blunt next time someone misunderstands me, and stand up for myself!

  6. Kristin, your acquaintance is not knowledgeable in the fine points of the English language. "Stalk" is actually pronounced without any hint of an "l," or exactly as is the word "stock."

    There is another kind of stalk, and that is to walk stiffly or with a haughty air. I use it quite a bit in my novels, as my offended characters often stalk away from their confrontations with other characters, or stalk grimly forward to a confrontation with danger.

    Did we mention the stalk of a plant? Oh yes. Debbi did.

    Yet another use of the word is when one stalks game animals. Knowing how to do that successfully is very important if you're hungry.

  7. Glad I can read and post with my old Vegas ANWA friends, even though I now live in the hinter-lands of Parowan, Utah. I love the diverse vocabulary,especailly the adjectives of English!
    Derry Bresee

  8. Great post, as always, Marsha! Thanks!

  9. I'm late to the party, as usual.

    What I found interesting about both stalk and stock is that they both can be nouns and verbs. How many homonymns can say that?

    Great post, Marsha!


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