This Has to be a Typo

I can’t believe a professional writer would make this mistake:

University of Delaware marine scientist Danielle Dixson has the next five years of research pretty well covered: She recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) award of $750,000 to study climate change’s affect on the symbiotic relationship between clownfish and sea anemones.

I made the offending word bold to make the solecism easy to spot. This error is most common among folks who didn’t pay a whole lot of attention in English class. Professionals know better.

Affect is a verb (okay, except in the field of psychology, where it’s pronounced “æfekt,” accent on the first syllable, not “uhfekt,” accent on the second syllable)
Effect is a noun that means a result (and as with many nouns in English, you can use it as a verb meaning “to cause.”)

Here affect is misused. The sentence wants a noun in that spot, so it should be effect. Harrumpf.

PS—I ran into another article getting this wrong. Here’s the quote:

“2018 has unfortunately been a prime example of global warming’s effect on the jet stream,” Humphrey writes. He predicts that warm temperatures will continue to melt sea ice, and could eventually effect permafrost, or ground that stays frozen permanently (as it’s name suggests).

The first sentence quotes Humphrey, the source, who correctly uses “effect” as a noun. The second sentence uses “effect” as a verb, which means the warm temperatures could cause the permafrost. This is the opposite of what the writer means.

Come on, professionals. Get your act together.



The definition on the board in this Andertoons comic is mostly correct.

Idioms aren’t limited to phrases, however. Idioms can be anything from a single word to several sentences. In fact, small variations in spelling can be idiomatic. Think of writing in a southern accent, or should I say suhthun acksayent?

However, the point of this post is a heads up. If you’re a native speaker of English, you most likely don’t have much trouble understanding idioms, and often don’t even think about them. Here’s the heads up:

When you write something that might be translated, avoid idioms!

You want your readers to understand what you mean without having to puzzle over what you wrote. Idioms don’t lend themselves to effective translation in expository writing, so avoid them.

Here, I’ll give you an example, a German idiom. What does it mean in English? (I’ll translate it literally for you)

That’s like a Bohemian village!

How would you say that in English?

Well, I’m going to almost give away the answer because I found a comic with the answer in it. Which one is it?

Simple Truth and Great Truth

This comic reminded me of an aphorism I heard a while back.

The opposite of a simple truth is false. The opposite of a great truth is also true!

So this guy doesn’t realize that his parents told great truths.

Egoism vs. Egotism

First the definition:

Egoism is a school of philosophy that says, “Only I exist. Everything else is  the product of my imagination.”
Egotism says “I am better, more important than, everyone and everything.”

Now the test. Does this guy have it right or wrong?

If you said he has it wrong, you’d be right!

Now how about this one?

Yup! He used the correct word.

Eager vs. Anxious

I think I mentioned this before, but it’s been a while.

Anxious means to anticipate with fear,
Eager means to anticipate with delight.

So don’t be like Citizen Dog.

Extra Syllables

General rule: don’t do this.

The lesson is the point of this Gray Matters comic. Adding adding an extra syllable is a pretentiousism, the need to sound classier than you are. Believe me, it defeats the purpose.

Comic writers are generally pretty good with the language, but this Jumpstart has another rather common extra-syllabified (I almost wrote syllableified)  word. I suppose he could use the excuse that he’s writing for the character…

On a related note, I’ve never heard anyone use “idololatry,”

Not Sure How to Describe This

Look at the sentence in the last panel, courtesy of Rabbits Against Magic.  Doesn’t feel quite right, does it?

That first preposition isn’t right somehow. Maybe I see a suggested contradiction between “in the opposite direction” and “to the White House.”

“Opposite” can stand by itself just fine:

They’re moving opposite the direction to the White House.

Or maybe something even simpler:

They’re moving away from the White House.

How would you smooth out that sentence?

Lightweight Homonym Goof

Do you see the mistake?

I think Ralph Hagen, cartoonist for The Barn, actually didn’t think, and picked the first spelling that came to mind. But what do I know?

Okay, here’s the answer:

Peddling—to actively work at getting someone to buy something

Pedaling—to operate the pedals on a mechanical device such as a bicycle

A Measuring-Counting Conundrum

Some things we can measure or we can count, depending on the situation. Two of these are distance and time. Both consist of discrete units that are infinitely divisible, limited only by your choice of precision. So you can count the number of miles to town or measure the distance to town to whatever precision you like.

So how do you choose whether to use words such as “few” and “number” (for counting) or “less” and “amount” (for measuring)? Here we see Off the Mark’s cat getting it wrong:

Here’s a good rule of thumb if you’re ever in doubt:

If the word is singular, use “amount.”
If the word is plural, use “number.”

So you have an amount of time but a number of minutes.

Piece of cake.

PS—I just ran into someone at a higher level than a cat (Matthew Hickey, a security researcher and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Hacker House) getting it wrong:

“The [passcodes] don’t always go to the [secure enclave processor] in some instances — due to pocket dialing [or] overly fast inputs — so although it ‘looks’ like pins are being tested they aren’t always sent and so they don’t count, the devices register less counts than visible,” he tweeted.

Yay! A Correct “Comprise”

So many so-called writers use the pretentiousism of “is comprised of” that I mention correct usages every chance I get. Here’s our current correct construction, from Jonathan Amos, of the BBC, no less:

The Annie Maunder Astrographic Telescope (AMAT) is actually a four-in-one instrument. It comprises three smaller refractors around a top-end, 14-inch (35.5cm) aperture Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope.

Remember, “comprise” goes from the single, multi-part thing to a list of its parts.