How to affect and effect / 9 ноября 2007 г.

By John Allemang

WORD PLAY. Do you flaunt the law or flout it? Do you pay someone a complement or a compliment? When so many words are so similar it’s easy to get confused — and embarrassed.

It’s time to throw down the gantlet. I think we should all flaunt convention and forego New Year’s resolutions. You’ll give me flack for breeching a time-honoured tradition, but I’m loathe to pour over my many venal sins just lo defuse my guilt for another year. Better to live life with flare than to exalt in one’s own gaffs, just for the sake of a few principals.

There are 13 misspellings or confusions in the last paragraph. It’s rare to see so many gaffes gathered together in one place, but I’d be surprised if the coming year will be free of mahy of them. Who’s to blame — bombastic politicians, newspaper dead-lines, the educational system or the language that gave us stationery and stationary without any hint that one means paper and the other means standing still?

I know that one, but not so well that I can spell it out without a wisp of hesitation. And writing permits second thoughts. What happens when you find vourself about to say — flout, flaunt? Stop to wonder which is right and you forget what you’re saying. Fumble on and you’ll probably end up saying both just lo make sure. This confusion is not just intellectual laziness. Languages as a rule make like out of unlike. Assimilation is inevitable. But in the meantime, let me get just a few things straight.

Affect/effect: The noun is always effect. The verb effect should not be used to mean influence. It is more concerned with results or accomplishments.

Breach/breech/broach/rooch: Breach means break, Breech means back or bottom, as in breech-loading gun or a breech birth. Broach means (1) raise a subject and (2) open a barrel or bottle, which is a little too close to breach for comfort. A brooch is what you wear. But it comes from the same word in Middle English as broach, so it’s not surprising we’re confused.

Canon/cannon: Canon is a principle (see below), a list of sacred books and, by a slightly different etymological route, the middle management at a cathedral. Cannons we know.

Canvas/canvass: The first is for painters, the second for pollsters and politicians.

Careen/career: Careen, meaning tilt, comes from the Latin for keel, and originally meant turning a ship on its side. The verb career, which is related to the noun for professional advancement, means to move about wildly. But career sounds dull, so we wrongly use the wilder-sounding careen.

Exalt/exult: You exalt and magnify someone. You exult in their good fortune.

Flaunt/flout: Madonna flaunts her body and flouts convention.

Flounder/founder: flounder means struggle, as if caught in mud. Founder means lo sink, to fail. But the words have a common heritage and even now a politician can do both.

Forego/forgo: The foregoing is what goes before. To forgo is lo do without.

Gaff/gaffe: A gaff hooks a fish, a gaffe puts you on the hook.

Gantlet/gauntlet: Less easy than it looks. You run the gantlet (from a Swedish word meaning a course through a lane), and throw down the gauntlet (from the French gant, meaning glove). But the British use gauntlet for both.

Loath/loathe: The first means unwilling and rhymes with both. The second means hate, and then some.

Palate/palette/pallet: A feeble mnemonic — palate ends in ate ami has to do with taste: palette is for painters, and looks French, like the Impressionists; pallet is the other one.

Phase/faze: We’re going through a “faze” phase, where everyone who’s undisturbed is described as unfazed. It will pass.

Stanch/staunch: You stanch the How of blood from your staunch ally. But they come from the same source (a staunch ship is watertight) and will probably end up the same way.

Waiver/waver: The sports term waiver (literally, allow to become a waif, abandon) is in danger of taking over from the word that means unsteady like a wave.

Whiskey/whisky: Don’t call Glenfiddich the first, which is Irish, or Bushmills the second, which is true Scotch: but the mistake is venial (from the Latin venia, forgiveness; I had to look it up).

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