Tack and tact. This has a lot of people confused I think. Tack can either mean a small nail, or also a nautical term for changing direction. Probably other meaning as well, I haven’t checked.

Tact is an emotional intelligence skill you acquire with other people that manifests itself in diplomacy, language and body language. So two pretty different meanings, then, for two words that look and sound similar.

‘I think we need to take a different tact.’ I heard this the other day – for the countlessth time, from someone who sails regularly and presumably done his share of tacking. You don’t want the word tact here, you want the word tack, unless your change in strategy involves ushering in some unexpected wave of diplomacy into proceedings.

The best way to remember the difference I think is from the Faithless song Insomnia, the lyrics of which go:

‘Fundamental movement, huh, so when it’s black
This insomniac, take an original tack
Keep the beast in my nature under ceaseless attack’

The tack you want is the one that rhymes with black and attack. Unless of course your context is thoughtfulness and consideration to others, in which case some tact is required.

Was that tactfully enough put to put you on the right tack?

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