Fellow Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota took a similar tact as she spoke at the rally.

I believe the CNN writer meant to use the word 'tack' like in the phrase ‘take a different tack’.

Would the sentence also be correct using tact since the word can mean ‘dealing with difficult situations’?

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    No, it's an error. My theory: someone had bet the CNN writer that he or she could not use the name of Michele Bachmann and the word "tact" in the same sentence. – Brian Donovan May 15 '16 at 17:23
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    It's a transcription error. Happens all the time. No, you could not substitute tact there. – Lambie May 15 '16 at 17:27
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    Simply? No. You can't "take a different tact", it's clearly an error. – Prof Yaffle May 15 '16 at 21:26
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    One "uses", "exhibits", or "demonstrates" tact. The verb "take" restricts the range of possible correct objects in that sentence, ... in this case to words such as "course", "route", strategy" or "path" ... or "tack" which is a synonym for direction or approach.The word "tact" is a general attribute. So I'm also having difficulty thinking of a way it can follow "a" <adjective> ... in a "grammarily" correct manner. – DWin May 15 '16 at 21:43
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    I can see a situation where a writer would intentionally write, say, "try a different tact" as a sort of pun, but the non-punny idiom is "try a different tack", et al, where "tack" refers to the setting of sails on a sailboat. I suspect that "tact" is often erroneously substituted because people don't understand this meaning of "tack". – Hot Licks May 16 '16 at 0:26

The terms are often confused, probably for the fact that some people think that tact is a short for tactic (which is similar to tack):

  • Tact is sensitivity in social situations. A tack is a course or an approach (the word has nautical origins). When switching courses or taking a different approach, one changes tack, not tact.

  • Tact often appears in place of tack. Presumably some people think of it as short for tactic, which is synonymous with tack in some contexts. This is understandable given how rare tack is, but tact is not conventionally short for tactic, and, fairly or not, phrases like change tact are generally considered wrong by people who pay attention to these things.

The Grammarist

Tact and tack (often confused words).

  • 4
    Does not answer the question. – Drew May 15 '16 at 18:40
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    As explained in the comments to the OQ, it's an error, and you may not substitute one for the other, under any circumstances. – John Lawler May 15 '16 at 18:59
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    @Josh61 Thank you for the explanation. I understand the difference between the two, and I know they are often confused. My question is whether or not 'tact' is grammatically correct. – Devon Yarbrough May 15 '16 at 19:08
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    What makes you think there is something I don't understand? The OP asked the question again, in a comment just now, and your comment answers the question (as did BrianDonovan's comment). Your answer did not (still does not) answer the question, however. If you edit your posted answer to include the actual answer, that will be helpful. Thx. – Drew May 15 '16 at 19:48
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    @DevonYarbrough If by grammatically, you mean syntactically, it is correct. Tack and tact are both nouns that can be the direct object of the verb took. If you mean is it semantically correct?, it is not. – bib May 15 '16 at 21:28

The title of the article is:

Tea Party activist to GOP: 'Take off your lace panties,' cut more from the budget"

The gist of the article can be summed up in the final paragraph:

"I say to the Republican leadership: take off your lace panties, stop being noodle backs, take a strong, bold, unwavering stand for the American people."

The context of the statement in question is:

Fellow Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota took a similar tact as she spoke at the rally.

"[Democrats] They've got their fingers crossed right now that the government will shut down," Bachmann claimed. "That's their plan. They want to shut the government down and they want to turn you into their scapegoat and say it is the Tea Party's fault for shutting the government down. Now, the cat is out of the bag. We know who has no interest in negotiating. It's Harry Reid. It's the big liberals over in the Senate."

If diplomacy, sophistication, opportunism, and savvy, can be variations of "tact", then I think it could be used, if it were stated properly. Can you "take a tact"? I thought tact was something one possessed, and expressed...but a search yielded these examples (there were at least five on the first page of results, including the Congressional Record):

60 Kymlicka appears to take a similar tact by placing indigenous people's commitment to “a premodern way of life” in the recent past and describing them as aspiring to “the ability to maintain certain traditional ways of life while nevertheless ...

Matt took a similar tact. “Lead on, McDuff,” he said lightly to the realtor. As if they were old friends screwing around over beers, instead of traipsing through the former lair of an evil black magician. It reminded her of the early days in the field, ...

There are a couple of different responses that I think we could take in this that do not require us to wait around until we ... has been the principal sponsor of that takes a somewhat similar tact — again, involving no bureaucracy, no tax dollars.

According to the context of the statement, the above examples, and the definition below, I think the answer to the OP's question is yes.

from dictionary.com:


  1. a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense; skill in dealing with difficult or delicate situations.

However, I also believe that Josh61 brings a valid and valuable argument. I was ready to jump to his defense until I dug a bit deeper and was surprised to find so many examples... So, the question this leads me to is this: Are "tact" and "tack" becoming conflated in their usage? Is "taking a tactful tack" becoming "taking a tact"?


I think I asked/answered this question in the wrong place. I was thinking more along the lines of Esa Itkonen and the like:

Linguistic change, or more generally linguistic variation, and extraordinary use of language are, then, the two cases where atheoretical linguistic knowledge is less than certain, or where the social control of such knowledge is less than absolute. The possibility of spontaneous change is a necessary precondition for the continuous functioning of language, and distinguishes natural language from such artificial normative systems as formal logic or the game of chess. Moreover, linguistic change represents the exact point at which linguistic normativity and linguistic spatiotemporality contact each other, or merge into each other. For my general conception of science, such a point is of absolutely crucial importance since it provides the natural link between the empirical sciences and conceptual analyses in the widest sense. (Itkonen 1978: 153; emphasis added).

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    Repeating an error doesn't correct it. Demonstrating a conflation of two words is widespread doesn't make instances of such less erroneous. – DWin May 15 '16 at 21:32
  • @DWin. You're right. How silly of me to ask this question here. I'll ask the linguists. – Bea Bonmot May 15 '16 at 22:01
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    @Bea Your question (in bold) is on-topic on ELU, I think. But asking it in the Answer box is not the right thing to do. This answer would make a good question, as you have obviously done the research. – Andrew Leach May 16 '16 at 6:08

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