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If we don't leave till after lunch we'll be cutting it very fine.

I understand it to mean: "If we don't leave after lunch, we'll be cutting it very fine." (In the event of our not leaving immediately after lunch, we will leave ourselves just enough time to do something.)

But why is till in that position?

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The word till means until

Until means

[often preceded by up] in or throughout the period before

In the context of your sentences, the first means

if we [don't leave in any of the periods before, but] leave [immediately] after lunch, we'll be cutting it fine.

The second sentence means

If we don't leave [immediately] after lunch, we'll be cutting it very fine.

The first sentence contemplates leaving at a variety of times up to the period immediately following lunch. The second sentence only contemplates one departure time - immediately following lunch.

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Till is the older version of until , as described in another question here:

What is the difference between "till" and "until"?

Till is indeed older and the two can be used pretty much interchangeably.

As a suggestion, you could also rewrite the sentence like so:

If we don't leave 'til after lunch, we'll be cutting it very fine.

'til is an abbreviation of 'until'.

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This is more of a comment than an answer. – FumbleFingers Jul 25 '13 at 3:13
@FumbleFingers It’s also a mistaken answer, since till is not an abbreviation or contraction of until: spelling it ’til is a spelling mistake. – tchrist Nov 1 '14 at 6:38
@Tchrist: That seems a somewhat prescriptive/pedantic position to me. Most written instances of 'Til the morning comes, for example, do include the apostrophe. The fact that there's a separate word till doesn't somehow "invalidate" using the apostrophised contraction of until. – FumbleFingers Nov 1 '14 at 14:53
I've made my comment more of an answer now. – fuzzyanalysis Nov 3 '14 at 5:48

In contrast to what @fuzzyanalysis said, my understating of the sentence containing till is:

If we do not leave before lunch is finished, we'll be cutting it very fine.

The subtle difference is that there is no need in interpreting immediately.

Also the sentence

If we don't leave after lunch, we'll be cutting it very fine.

says nothing about immediately after lunch or one hour after lunch or whatever, just after lunch.

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I think this would be better as a comment on the other answer. – Chenmunka May 21 '15 at 7:46

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