\ ˈtakt How to pronounce tact (audio) \

Definition of tact

1 : a keen sense of what to do or say in order to maintain good relations with others or avoid offense
2 : sensitive mental or aesthetic perception converted the novel into a play with remarkable skill and tact

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Choose the Right Synonym for tact

tact, address, poise, savoir faire mean skill and grace in dealing with others. tact implies delicate and considerate perception of what is appropriate. questions showing a lack of tact address stresses dexterity and grace in dealing with new and trying situations and may imply success in attaining one's ends. brought it off with remarkable address poise may imply both tact and address but stresses self-possession and ease in meeting difficult situations. answered the accusations with unruffled poise savoir faire is likely to stress worldly experience and a sure awareness of what is proper or expedient. the savoir faire of a seasoned traveler

Do you change tack or tact?

Although some believe the word tact is short for tactics in phrases like "change tact" or "try a different tact," the correct word in such contexts is tack.

Tack in "change tack" and "try a different tack" means "a course or method of action especially when sharply divergent from that previously followed.”

Tack developed this meaning from its nautical applications. In sailing, tack can refer to the direction that a ship or boat is sailing in as it moves at an angle to the direction of the wind; or to a change from one direction to another direction; or to the distance traveled while sailing in a particular direction.

Tack developed the "course or method of action" meaning near the end of the 17th century; within 100 or so years, the phrase "change tack" was being used with the figurative meaning it has today.

While there is also a long history of people using tact where tack belongs, the use is widely shunned by usage guides, which means you might want to avoid it.

Did You Know?

This word came to English directly from French (a Latin-based language), where it can also mean simply "sense of touch". Dealing with difficult situations involving other people can require the kind of extreme sensitivity that our fingertips possess. As Lincoln once said, "Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves", which doesn't usually come naturally. Someone tactful can soothe the feelings of the most difficult people; a tactless person will generally make a bad situation worse.

Examples of tact in a Sentence

Far from joining polite society like the debutants of the past, the kids gleefully rip through social graces, alienating friends and sacrificing tact all in the name of creating a VIP room filled with people too young to drive themselves home. — Ana Marie Cox, Time, 24 Apr. 2006 The attorney general's lack of restraint and want of tact, on such an occasion … were clearly symptomatic of a considerable irritation, even rage. — Christopher Hitchens, Harper's, March 2001 In society tact is the great art that makes for civility, for civilization … — Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadance, 2000 He did not clear his throat with badinage, as timidity teaches us to do, nor did he waste his breath with tact. — Earl Shorris, Harper's, September 1997 A man of gentle mien, he is inclined to use psychology and tact, rather than showboat heroics, when pursuing his murder inquiries. — Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review, 1 Jan. 1989 The peace talks required great tact on the part of both leaders. I was surprised by his lack of tact.
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Recent Examples on the Web Lizzie Post noted that navigating friendships and communities where individuals have varied comfort levels, vulnerability and exposure requires an extra dose of tact. Jen Rose Smith, CNN, "Don't be a jerk during a global pandemic," 15 May 2020 On Thursday, the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals ruled 3-1 to keep in tact Travis County Judge Tim Sulak’s temporary injunction which expanded mail voting to people who afraid of catching the coronavirus during in-person voting. James Barragán, Dallas News, "Texans afraid of catching COVID-19 can temporarily use mail ballots, appeals court says," 14 May 2020 Turns out, a little forewarning, a dash of tact and a giant pile of money is a winning formula for a clean break. Washington Post Staff, Washington Post, "The breakups of the decade," 16 Dec. 2019 Hogan argued that the federal government has a responsibility to help states respond to the crisis by paying to keep core government services in tact. John Wagner, Anchorage Daily News, "McConnell takes flak after suggesting bankruptcy for states rather than bailouts," 23 Apr. 2020 That is unless Valverde changes tact and discards Suarez sooner than expected - but don't bank on it. SI.com, "Antoine Griezmann May Continue to Struggle at Barcelona - Simply Because He's Not Lionel Messi," 15 Oct. 2019 Nine games into the 2004/05 season the run remained in tact. SI.com, "On This Day: Arsenal Recorded Their 49th Consecutive Unbeaten Premier League Match," 16 Oct. 2019 But with tact and humanity, this materfamilias has still calmed the waters. Boyd Van Hoeij, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Happy Birthday' ('Fete de famille'): Film Review," 7 Oct. 2019 Even a mundane task like packing is approached with tact, because cobbling together a suitable wardrobe at the eleventh hour is anathema to Patricia's disciplined existence. Luzanne Otte, Town & Country, "Patricia Altschul's Very Specific Guide to Traveling in Style," 18 May 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tact.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tact

1797, in the meaning defined at sense 2

History and Etymology for tact

French, sense of touch, from Latin tactus, from tangere to touch — more at tangent entry 2

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Learn More about tact

Statistics for tact

Last Updated

29 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Tact.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tact. Accessed 4 Jun. 2020.

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More Definitions for tact


How to pronounce tact (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of tact

: the ability to do or say things without offending or upsetting other people


\ ˈtakt How to pronounce tact (audio) \

Kids Definition of tact

: the ability to do or say things without offending other people She settled the argument with tact.

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More from Merriam-Webster on tact

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for tact

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with tact

Spanish Central: Translation of tact

Nglish: Translation of tact for Spanish Speakers

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