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7 Comments

  • Stan:
    All of these words seem to have lives of their own. No matter how often commentators write about them, the same mistakes occur over and over. As an editor, it used to drive me up a wall. I was always particularly crazed by the confusion over affect and effect, or should I say, affected by the confusion, which created a crazed effect on me?

  • I agree with Marc – they have lives of their own. Our corpus data suggests the problem lies with ‘flaunt’ (‘flout’ appears to be used correctly in 99% of cases). The typical objects of ‘flaunt’ include things like ‘wealth’ or ‘glamour’, but the two most frequent are ‘law’ and ‘rule’. Here’s an example from a Scottish county council website: “We will take action against those who flaunt the law or cause unnecessary obstruction”. A possible source of confusion is suggested by the adverbs that frequently go with these verbs: words like ‘brazenly’, ‘openly’, ‘blatantly’ and ‘shamelessly’ are found with both verbs and work equally well with either meaning.

  • Marc: Yes, a certain amount of confusion seems unavoidable. My old post on affect vs. effect has examples of the error in newspapers and even in a book. I think if writers know they’re not sure which is which, they owe it to their readers to learn the difference. Maybe that’s old-fashioned of me!

    Michael: That’s a good point. What the words tend to collocate with probably contributes, in some cases, to their getting mixed up. Certainly it seems likely with flaunt and flout for the reason you say. The Scottish county council you mention could have done with a proofreader…

  • The e in stationery can be tied to letter and envelope

    This is an interesting distinction between our respective primary schools, because I always heard it tied to “pen”. (The a in stationary wasn’t tied to anything; it was just “the other one”, and of course, you don’t need to tie it to anything if it’s stationary.)

  • That is interesting, Adrian. Maybe pen wasn’t included in our mnemonic because we called them biros (and we called vacuum cleaners “hoovers”). It was only later that I realized these were eponyms, and that pen was the more generally used term.
    I’ve seen stationery companies call themselves stationary companies, which doesn’t inspire confidence.