TK Is My New Philosophy

Why I’m making old-timey journalism shorthand my go-to text.

Author by Theresa Fisher
Art credit: Megan Schaller


That’s not an error. It’s an illustration of a very short, very sage, very guru-ish life philosophy called “TK.”

“TK-ing” means giving yourself permission to leave a few blanks in whatever you’re doing and come back later to fill them in. If, for instance, I’m responsible for planning a friends night out, but haven’t worked out every detail yet, I can tell the nudnik bombarding me with texts to chill, because 7 people are definitely coming, we’re meeting at my apartment, and, don’t worry, the restaurant is TK. It’s TK, okay?!?!

Before I go any further, I must confess that I didn’t make up TK. Like all slang terms destined to go viral, it has a rich, if hazy, history in the print news industry: TK is shorthand passed down from the golden, olden days of journalism. And it stands for “to come” or, colloquially, “to kum.” A reporter (or editor) will insert TK into a sentence as a placeholder to indicate that a missing word or piece of information will be added before publication. The abbreviation became TK (rather than TC), the legend goes, because TK is an unusual letter combination that copy editors and proofreaders would be unlikely to confuse with actual copy.

The precise origins of TK are somewhat unclear, but we know that it’s one of several intentionally misspelled terms that date back to, at least, the 1920s. (Others include “hed” for headline and “lede” for lead.) We also know that TK did occasionally make it into print, like in this 1921 article from the agricultural publication Feedstuffs: “… the grade feeder is apt to come to life sooner than the pure bred, simply because the turn over will take place with a smaller initial investment and Hed to Kum (emphasis mine).”

But I’ve decided that it’s time to transform TK from old-timey journalism jargon into an all-encompassing personal philosophy. This epiphany came to me a few months ago, thanks to a request from my lifelong best friend, Sarah.

Sarah had asked me to look over a cover letter she was struggling to finish. Be critical, she told me. Of course, I said. Looking over cover letters and being critical are two of my favorite pastimes. So I read her gimme-this-job plea and sent her edits. After thanking me, Sarah followed up with a question: “What does TK mean?”

I picked up the phone — this topic merited a real conversation — and regaled Sarah with the story of TK. Sarah wasn’t as riveted by it as I’d hoped. But then, the following week, she told me she’d started using TK in subsequent cover letters when she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to say. She felt okay about sticking a TK in a sentence and leaving it unfinished, because she knew that TK was a real thing professional writers used. Embracing TK, she said, had turned a stressful undertaking into something she could just … do, and do pretty well.

“I figured you’d appreciate hearing that,” she told me.

She figured correctly.

TK, I told Sarah, suppressing my urge to squeal in word-nerd delight, had helped me finish so many stories when I would have otherwise become derailed by a statistic I couldn’t find or an idea I didn’t quite know how to articulate.

Soon after hanging up the phone, it dawned on me that the power of TK transcended writing. TK could and should double as a full-on lifestyle mantra, on par with the likes of “keep calm and carry on,” “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” and the very anti-consequentialist one about how it’s the journey that really matters or whatever.

There were so many situations, I realized, that called for a TK mentality.

Like when you’re cramming for a test on Cambodian history and can’t find your class notes on the Khmer Empire.

Or when you’re making a grocery list — because when you go shopping without a list, you come home with condiments and a German chocolate bar and three Meyer lemons — but don’t know which type of berries to prioritize or whether it makes sense to buy steak just to freeze it.

Or when you’re responsible for organizing a bachelorette party and your inbox is filling up with dietary restrictions, hashtag suggestions, and group-exercise-class preferences from your friend’s fiance’s cousins.

Or when you’re trying to compose an empathetic, yet firm break-up text to a Tinder fling.

If you’re a person who can’t finish something until every painstaking detail is addressed, then TK-ing can help you move on, blank spaces and all, because a stellar introduction (on its own) never beats a good-enough, complete legal brief/eulogy/love letter/TK.

And if you’re not a detail-oriented person, the TK mindset is still helpful. TK-ing doesn’t give you license to move on and give up — it’s not like the empty, non-committal TBD. Instead, it requires you to make a good-faith effort to come back and fill in the particulars. Because when you tell someone — yourself or anyone else — that something is TK’ed, it means “Trust me, I’ll come back to it.”

So please, use TK: Use it when you’re composing a Facebook rant or a Yelp review, or texting your mom back about summer plans, or preparing remarks for small claims court. Use it to get to the end and then return to the beginning. Use it to make the tedious bearable and the interminable slightly less so. And use it without feeling guilty in the slightest, because TKTKTKTKTK LAST SENTENCE TKTKTKTKTK.

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