The Effects of the Unaffected

A couple of days ago, I was skimming through my Facebook feed when I came upon a photo of a friend’s son with some kind of science project. The poster board proclaimed, “The Affects of Global Warming on Animals.” His father had posted a typically proud comment: “Justin did this all by himself. I didn’t even proofread it.”

I’m not particularly proud of my internal response to this, but it went something like this: “I can tell.” (Harsh, right? The kid was maybe 12.)

The thing is, when it comes to “affect” versus “effect,” age doesn’t matter. It’s one of those issues that plagues many of us well into adulthood. So let’s clear up the confusion.

“Affect” is a verb meaning “to influence.” As in, “Learning that the slang word ‘amazeballs’ made it into the Oxford Dictionary affected me greatly.”

“Effect,” on the other hand, is a noun meaning “result.” As in, “Learning that the slang word ‘amazeballs” made it into Oxford Dictionary had a dismaying effect on me.”

Not so difficult, right? What adds a bit of complexity is that “affect” can also be a noun (pronounced “af-ekt”) describing someone’s emotional state: “His inappropriate affect was pretty much the opposite of amazeballs.” And “effect” can also be a verb meaning “to bring about or cause”: “Whoever effected that addition to the Oxford Dictionary should consider a new line of work.”

But those are completely different uses from the fundamental problem at hand. In that particular use, it’s as easy as “affect” = verb and “effect” = noun.

I’m still collecting opinions on the appropriateness of emoticons when it comes to communicating with clients/colleagues in business. If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it. Thanks for reading.

Word of the Week: Amazeballs

Song of the Week: “Rump Shaker,” by Wrecks-N-Effect

And the Rest Is History

The year was 1997. It was around 10 a.m., and the 22-year-old version of me—the graduate student who taught and went to school at night—was fast asleep. And then the phone rang.

“Did I wake you?”
“No,” I lied. (I always do this when the phone wakes me up. It could be 2 a.m., and I’d still act like I’d been awake for hours.)
“Good. I have an important question. My colleague was just talking about an historic event, except she kept saying ‘a historic.’ That’s wrong, right? ‘Historic’ gets an ‘an.’”

Before I go any further, I ask you: which is correct? “A historic event” or “an historic event?”

After asking my friend if this was really worth calling me at the crack of 10 a.m., I told him the truth: I thought it was “a,” but I wasn’t 100 percent. There didn’t seem to be anything special about “historic”; you wouldn’t’ say “an history,” for example, but I’d heard people say “an historic event” so many times, for so long, I thought maybe I was missing something.

I wasn’t. It is, in fact, “a historic event” because the “h” isn’t silent. The rule goes like this: use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound (a beer, a Cheeto, even a unicorn) and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound (an egg, an ostrich, or an MBA).

Interestingly, according to The Oxford Dictionary, the same people who say “an historic event” apparently also often say “an horrific event” and “an hotel.” Why? Because it used to be that way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, people apparently did say “istoric,” “orrific,” and “otel.”

But they don’t today. So neither should we.

New topic: What do you think of emoticons when it comes to communicating with clients/colleagues in business? Do you find them fun? Welcoming? Irritating? Unprofessional? And are they more acceptable in an instant message than an email? Why? Feel free to be candid. I’m collecting opinions for an upcoming blog. Thanks!  

Word of the Week: Heresy

Song of the Week: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel

One and Done

The phrase “one and done” typically isn’t associated with good writing except in one instance: the amount of space between a period and the first word of the next sentence. If you’re still putting two spaces after a period, I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re doing it wrong.

Disagree? You’re not alone. Those who persist in perpetuating the two-space mindset are passionate about its use and accuracy. Often we agree to disagree.

I once read an article that declared, “Nothing says ‘over 40’ like two spaces after a period.” And it’s true (although I know a lot of people approaching 40 with their feet firmly planted in the two-space camp as well). Why? Because of the typewriter.

Way back in the day, typewriters used monospaced type. This means that every character occupied the same amount of horizontal space, regardless of its width. As you can see, the result was significant, often uneven, white space between characters and words, making it difficult to tell where one sentence ended and a new one began. Thus, the two-space rule was born.

In the late 1970s, however, that all changed. Electric typewriters and computers were outfitted with proportional typesetting (in which thinner characters like “1” or “!” were given less space than more portly ones), negating the need for that extra space. Two spaces no longer enhanced readability but rather diminished it.

Today, virtually every font (with the notable exception of Courier) is proportional. But old habits die hard. When you’ve been adding that extra space after every sentence for 30 years or so, change doesn’t come easy. But know this—it’s not a matter of preference, nor is it open for debate. Every modern typographer and every major style guide (Chicago, MLA, etc.) agree on the one-space rule, “rule” being the operative word. And while some rules are meant to be broken, this isn’t one of them.

Word of the Week: Canonical

Song of the Week: “The Space Between,” by Dave Mathews Band

What Do You Mean You’re Resigning?

A month or so ago, I had the following email exchange with a good friend of mine who is also a Plante Moran vendor and fellow grammar enthusiast:

Foxylocks*: Evidently, you guys are resigning for 2015. I’ll be there next Thursday at 1 to do the horse and pony show.
Me: Really? I hadn’t heard that. I wonder why?
Foxylocks: At least I hope you’re resigning for 2015. Maybe I’m jumping the gun.
Me: Why do you hope we’re resigning?
Foxylocks: Because it’s business for next year! Wait. Did you think I meant resigning? I should have typed re-signing. Meaning, we have you for another year. Clearly I need more coffee.

And of course, “resign” is exactly what I thought she meant. I was completely confused. Why would she no longer want Plante Moran’s business? That’s crazy talk.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s blog: the hyphen. This tiny mark is the Rodney Dangerfield of punctuation. Winston Churchill called it a “blemish, to be avoided wherever possible.” As far back as 1930, Fowler’s “Modern English Usage” advised that, wherever reasonable, the hyphen be dropped, and the 2003 edition of “Oxford Dictionary of English” proclaimed that it was headed for extinction. And that certainly seems to be the case. It seems that, almost overnight, “on-line” became “online” and “e-mail” became “email.” Even words like “nonnegotiable” and “preeminent” no longer require hyphens. (Apparently the prefix/suffix line is drawn at three consonants in a row, however, as “shell-like” still demands a hyphen.)

But there are instances where a hyphen’s removal results in a different meaning altogether. A re-formed rock band is completely different than a reformed one. “Reserving” a table isn’t the same as “re-serving” one. And we can’t forget compound modifiers where eliminating a hyphen results in instances of little used cars, pickled herring merchants, and Plante Moran’s 2,000 odd employees. (Sure, some of us might be a little eccentric, but not all 2,000+ of us.)

There’s a lot more where that came from. If you’d like a more extensive overview of hyphen usage, here’s a quick reference. Otherwise, I’ll be back in two weeks with my most controversial topic to date. Any guesses on what it will be?

Word of the Week: Pickled

Song of the Week: “Give Judy My Notice,” by Ben Folds

*She asked that I use an alias and that it include the word “foxy.” Happy to oblige.