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.
She tacked a poster on the wall.
A message was tacked to the board.
We had to tack repeatedly as we sailed toward the harbor.
Recent Examples on the Web
Shawsheen 21, Belmont 6 — Zach Rogers (91 total yards on five touches) scampered for a 39-yard rushing touchdown before tacking on a 29-yard receiving score to lead the Rams (2-0) to a nonleague win.—Nate Weitzer, BostonGlobe.com, 15 Sep. 2023 The senior had 23 assists, 19 crucial digs and tacked on 11 kills to secure the 3-2 (20-25, 25-18, 21-25, 25-12, 15-12) win.—Bryce Houston, The Courier-Journal, 11 Sep. 2023 Carter finished the opening drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, then tacked on a 44-yard score on MSU’s next drive to make it 31-0.—Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press, 9 Sep. 2023 In a statement, Walmart stated its systems mistakenly tacked on both the old rate and the new rate.—William Thornton | Wthornton@al.com, al, 1 Sep. 2023 The lender will just tack on the amount to the end of the loan, which will mean a longer loan term and more interest.—Becca Stanek, The Week, 25 Aug. 2023 Zaslav, too, began to talk about the need for CNN to tack to the center.—Clare Malone, The New Yorker, 23 Aug. 2023 The Grand Highlander isn't merely a regular Highlander with a few inches tacked on.—Elana Scherr, Car and Driver, 30 Aug. 2023 The food here is so good you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a restaurant with a hotel tacked on.—Christopher Cameron, Robb Report, 26 Aug. 2023
During the trial, prosecutors emphasized that Mr. Navarro could have taken a similar tack.—Zach Montague, New York Times, 8 Sep. 2023 Independent buyers could take the opposite tack, calculating that, as the strike drags on, the fewer films will get made and the bigger the gap in distributor’s schedules.—Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 8 Sep. 2023 Four years later, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee took a similar tack, declaring bankruptcy just before 17 lawsuits by abuse survivors were about to go to trial in state court and creating a $55 million trust designed for the maintenance of its cemeteries.—Jonathan M. Pitts, Baltimore Sun, 5 Sep. 2023 Mel Woods, the social media editor at Canadian LGBTQ+ news site Xtra, is taking the same tack.—Tracey Lindeman, WIRED, 28 Aug. 2023 Gently brush the silver-leaf letters with a sealer, and outline each letter with decorative tacks.—Emily Vanschmus, Better Homes & Gardens, 10 Aug. 2023 Sharp as a tack, and with a social conscience beyond her years, she seems destined to be head of state one day.—Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times, 29 Aug. 2023 From incredible sound to a massive screen size that's sharp as a tack, there's little this portable device can't do.—Jasmine Gomez, Women's Health, 29 Aug. 2023 More from Carolyn Hax From the archive: Dysfunctional in-laws want to join her side of family’s vacation
Girlfriend flubbed birthday celebration for boyfriend
Lovelorn ex-boyfriend needs to take different tack
What to call the grandparents?—Carolyn Hax, Washington Post, 28 Aug. 2023 See More
These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'tack.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.
Middle English takken, from tak
Middle English tak fastener, rope tying down the windward corner of a sail, from Middle French (Norman dialect) taque; akin to Middle Dutch tac sharp point
: to change the direction of a sailing ship by shifting the sails
: to change from one tack to another
: to follow a zigzag course
2 of 3noun
: a small short sharp-pointed nail usually with a broad flat head
: the direction a ship is sailing as shown by the position the sails are set in
on the port tack
: a change of course from one tack to another
: a zigzag movement on land
: a course or method of action
try a new tack
: a slight or temporary sewing or fastening
3 of 3noun
: stable gear
especially: equipment (as a saddle and bridle) for use on a saddle horse
: to combine (a use, possession, or period of time) with that of another especially in order to satisfy the statutory time period for acquiring title to or a prescriptive easement in the property of a third party
successive adverse users in privity with prior adverse users can tack successive adverse possessions of land—Hall v. Kerlee, 461 S.E.2d 911 (1995)