Change tack

Change tack is an idiom that came into use in the 1700s. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech or literary devices often use descriptive imagery; common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom may be a euphemism, an understatement or exaggeration, or an expression of irony or hyperbole. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, red herring, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase change tack, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To change tack means to change course, to try a different approach or a different method. The phrase change tact is often used, but it is incorrect. It may be a confusion of the phrases change tack and change tactics. The expression change tack is often used when one is mulling a new approach to an endeavor that was not successful. The phrase change tack came into use as an idiom in the 1700s and is derived from a nautical term. In sailing, changing tack is positioning the bow of the boat so that the wind direction changes from one side to the other, propelling the boat. Related phrases are changes tack, changed tack, changing tack.


Sotheby’s has cancelled its April series of sales in Hong Kong, adding to the businesses forced to change tack because of the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. (The Financial Times)

An AM has urged Anglesey Council to “change tack” on its plans to shut two island schools amid an education revamp. (The Daily Post)

It’s understandably jarring to hear senior officials say they are taking things day-by-day or changing tack abruptly. (Bloomberg News)

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