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English pet peeve: taut vs. taught February 11, 2013

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

I’ve been encountering this misuse a lot lately, and it never fails to make me cringe.

Students are taught, ropes are pulled taut.

According to Merriam-Webster:

taut (adjective)

1 a: having no give or slack : tightly drawn <a taut rope>, b : high-strung, tense <taut nerves>

2 a: kept in proper order or condition <a taut ship>, b: (1): not loose or flabby <taut muscles> (2): marked by economy of structure and detail <a taut story>

The origin of taut is the Middle English word tought, perhaps from tought, toughth fierce, tough, alteration of tough tough

But it seems most American native speakers seem to think the word to use in connection with muscles or someone’s face post-cosmetic surgery (which is what set me off this time) is taught. No!!! I’ve seen it in comments on blogs (not here thank goodness) and fan fiction. So just to let all you non-native speakers know… the correct word is taut. Taught is a verb that means impart skills or knowledge to or accustom gradually to some action or attitude. A verb – not an adjective!

Thanks for letting me rant.



1. Jeff - February 11, 2013

Hey, you just taut me something new! Sorry, I couldn’t help it. 🙂

2. Kiiri Sandy - February 11, 2013

The misuse that drives me crazy is when people say weary when what they mean is wary, as in “We teach our kids to be weary of strangers.” I hear and read it all the time, and it makes me want to tear my hair out!

Jill (@bonnjill) - February 11, 2013

That’s another good one!

3. G. Kaminskas - February 11, 2013

I taut I taw a puddy tat. [Those born after 1960 probably have no idea what I’m talking about.]

Jill (@bonnjill) - February 11, 2013

I was born in 1969 and know what you’re talking about. Tweetie is the best.

Allison Wright - February 16, 2013

Someone beat me to it on the Tweetie utterance. 😦 Tweetie is not looking so taut in the facial features department, having just turned 62, apparently. Food for thought. (’64 baby)

4. Amenel - February 23, 2013

I too just learned “taut”. Thanks!

Jill, you’ll be glad you do not have to read French. As a proofreader, I totally agree with you. I believe any mistake in one’s native language is unacceptable. My eyes bleed each time I read a manuscript. Imagine how often you would cringe at the confusion between “to” (the preposition) and “has” (the verb)(à vs. a). That’s one of the hundreds of misuses you’ve dodged.

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