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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I stand corrected.

by Colleen Gleason

So I did my best this month to write the Top Ten Grammar Mistakes Writers Make, and although (as I confessed) I'm not a grammar goddess, I thought I made it through fairly unscathed. I used my trusty Strunk & White to confirm what I thought I knew and blithely sent the article off to Trish, our extraordinary editor.

But I didn't take into account the Posse. You see, there are nearly forty of us in all, and there's pretty much an expert in our midst on anything you can think of.

Want to find out how to grow avocados? Ask Lorelle.

Want to find out how to do your taxes? Ask Stef.

Interested in skin care? Kiki's a former aesthetician. (did I spell that right?)

Need to birth a calf or pour a patio? Tori's your gal.

Thinking about swimming with sharks? Talk to Anne.

Doing research on the pearl trade in Australia? Contact Trish Morey.

Want to know about that odd-looking rash on body part? Janice or Sandy can tell you whether to worry or not.

Need to know the vital stats on Gerard Butler? Diane or Mary can help.

...and the list goes on.

So I should have known that there was an English teacher in our midst, and if I'd been smart, I'd have sent my column to her first to "check over"--since Sister Mary deSales wasn't around any longer to do so for me.

But, alas, I didn't. And now there's egg on my face 'cause while the information in the 6th item on my list (affect/effect) is technically correct (thanks to Strunk & White), there's a whole lot more to the usage and spelling of those two words than I gave credit to.

So, Terry McLaughlin, a former English teacher, contacted me to let me know that I left a teeny bit of information out. Well, actually quite a bit. In fact, she said if she'd been writing the article (and I'm now wondering why she wasn' a loving, is-my-face-red sort of way), she says she wouldn't have used affect/effect as one of the items on the list anyway.

Because it's so confusing.

She kindly directed me to Professor Paul Brian's Common Errors in English page at Washington State University, where he says this about affect and effect:

There are four distinct words here.

When "affect" is accented on the final syllable (a-FECT), it is a verb meaning "have an influence on": "The million-dollar donation from the industrialist did not affect my vote against the Clean Air Act."

A much rarer meaning is indicated when the word is accented on the first syllable (AFF-ect), meaning "emotion." In this case the word is used mostly by psychiatrists and social scientists- people who normally know how to spell it.

The real problem arises when people confuse the first spelling with the second: "effect." This too can be two different words. The more common one is a noun: "When I left the stove on, the effect was that the house filled with smoke." When you affect a situation, you have an effect on it.

The less common is a verb meaning "to create": "I'm trying to effect a change in the way we purchase widgets." No wonder people are confused. Note especially that the proper expression is not "take affect" but "take effect"-become effective.

Hey, nobody ever said English was logical: just memorize it and get on with your life.
The stuff in your purse? Your personal effects.

So there you have it. Thanks to Terry for the clarification...and next time I have a grammar question, I'm contacting her.

In fact, she may be hearing from me sooner rather than later....'cause I've got a very technical question about capitalization as relates to my latest book.



At 2:58 PM, Blogger Sandy Blair said...

Love this post!! And I learned something new. Thanks.

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

LOL on the post, Colleen :-).

But I am not an expert on English grammar and usage. Like you, I thought I had a fairly solid grasp of things, but that was before I took a graduate level course from a linguistics professor while I was working on my MA in English and found out how little I know.

I'm still learning things about this crazy language, and that's one of the reasons I love it so.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger Anne Mallory said...

Loved your article and the post, Colleen. :)

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Colleen Gleason said...

Thanks, gals. It was fun writing the post.

And Terry, does this mean I can't bug you with my capitalization question??? ;-)

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Diane Perkins said...

I just love it that my main claim to fame is my knowledge of Gerard Butler! (uh, quite accurately, too).

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Kiki, aka Esri said...

Trish can confirm that the whole article made me uneasy. I live in fear of grammar. Okay, maybe not fear, but minor nausea.

And yes, that's one of the correct spellings of esthetician. ;]


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