Writing Tip 135: “Tick” vs. “Tic”

Tick or Tic

My intention was to include a picture of a tick here–as in the insect variety–but have you seen how creepy those things look up close? I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Thus, I present to you… a ticking clock. Perhaps still stressful but not nightmare inducing.

When the exterminator comes around, you might have a “nervous tick,” but if you’re referring to a sudden muscle spasm, you need the word “tic.” There are a few definitions to be aware of with these homonyms actually.

Specifically, a “tick” (noun) can be:

  • a bloodsucking arachnid (related to spiders, who knew?),
  • a recurring beat or click (as in a clock),
  • a small dot or check (perhaps marking something off of a list), or
  • a movement in the price of a stock on the Stock Exchange.

On the other hand, a “tic” (noun) can be:

  • a sudden muscle contraction (as noted above) or
  • a personal quirk.

I know this seems complicated. Clocks “tick-tock,” and you can play “tic-tac-toe”; where Rikki-Tikki-Tavi falls in the midst of this, I don’t know.

One little letter can make all the difference. Make sure you know what you’re doing.