Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

Having an automatic spell checking utility built into your web browser, app or mobile device can be a very helpful thing. It can help you catch those random errors and typos that you may make. It can also give you a false sense of confidence that you are spelling your words correctly. This is perhaps why people may confuse the words queue and cue, for example. In much the same way, I’ve seen people mistake the word “tick” for the word “tic.”

Even though the two words are pronounced exactly the same way and they only differ by a single letter, they have entirely different meanings and cannot be used interchangeably.

A tic refers to an unconscious or involuntary muscular contraction. The movement is typically sudden and jerky in nature. Depending on context, “tic” could be synonymous with “twitch.” The motion or movement can be persistent or recurrent. Someone who is trying to hold back his rage may develop an involuntary tic involving his eye and cheek. Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by physical or vocal tics.

A tick, on the other hand, can refer to several different things. It could refer to the tiny blood-sucking bug that is making your dog scratch incessantly. A tick can also refer to the sound a clock makes with each passing second or it could be used interchangeably with a check mark.

  • Terry was so nervous, he developed a noticeable facial tic.
  • Tick the items off your list as you complete them.
  • I bought a tick collar from the pet store for Fluffy.

Given all of this, the common term is a nervous tic, because it is the involuntary movement brought on by a bout of anxiety. A nervous tick, by contrast, would simply be an agitated or skittish arachnid. That’s probably not the term you want to use.

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