Friday 25 November 2016

Effect vs. Affect

The easiest way to tell these homonyms apart is to remember that, most of the time, we use effect as a noun and affect as a verb. In other words, an effect is usually a thing, while to affect usually involves doing something. (Mnemonic tip: affect = action.)

  • The effects of the transporter have never been fully explained.
  • Geraldo’s love spell had no effect on the handsome gargoyle.
  • Carrying the Righteous Sword of Truth within my body does not affect my digestion. 
  • Mr. Rogers’s affecting monologue had us all in tears.

However, English being the gloriously contrarian language it is, there are other, less common definitions of both words that don’t follow the same rule.

Aurora Consurgens 1420s Germany
Carrying the Righteous Sword of Truth within my body does not affect my digestion.

Effect as a Verb

The verb effect is most often seen in bureaucratese as a pompous way of saying “to bring about” or “to make happen.”

  • Pipe Kleenerz Inc. was able to effect a change in its fuzziness policies.

This is not to be confused with the verb affect, which means “to influence.”

  • EvilCorp affected the environmental legislation through nefarious means. (EvilCorp influenced the legislation.)
  • Our municipal government effected its anti-mime legislation last week. (The legislation was put into effect.)

Affect as a Noun

An affect (pronounced AF-fect rather than af-FECT) is an emotion or, in psychiatric circles, the manifestation of an emotion. For example, descriptions of depression or autism will sometimes mention a “flat affect,” that is, not showing visible evidence of feelings.

  • As a chef, Mandeep’s usual affect is of barely restrained fury.
  • The movie villain’s lack of affect was more disturbing than clichéd moustache-twirling.

Affect as Another Verb

Beyond “to influence,” the verb affect can also mean “to pretend (a behaviour) in order to impress.” This meaning is related to the noun affectation, “a contrived manner.”

  • Randy affects a British accent at gallery openings, but no one is fooled.
  • At seventeen, Zahra decided to affect a plumed hat whenever she went out.
  • Keiko affected a limp so no one would suspect she was a cat burglar.

Shaykh Abbasi(?), Woman in a European Hat Holding a Flower
At seventeen, Zahra decided to affect a plumed hat whenever she went out.

So, you might affect a certain affect in order to create an effect that will affect those around you, thus effecting your master plan.


Wednesday 16 November 2016

Sex and the Single Quotation Mark

Yes, okay, single quotation marks don’t actually have sex as far as we know, but they certainly do seem to be proliferating these days.

Portrait of Ambassador Admiral Abdelkader Perez 1737
“The king himself called my beard ‘enviably luxuriant,’ ” boasted the ambassador.

Keeping Singles in Their Place

The Chicago Manual of Style says there’s no call to use single quotation marks except within existing double quotation marks.

  • “The king himself called my beard ‘enviably luxuriant,’ ” boasted the ambassador.

Well, there are a couple of other reasons, namely if you’re writing something technical about linguistics or philosophy—but let’s face it, you’re probably not. Also, if you’re in the UK (or you’re in America but like being kind of pretentious), then you might permissibly use single quotation marks where the rest of us use doubles. All other uses, according to the Chicago Manual, are incorrect.

Meet the Press

But journalists operate out of a different rule book—literally: The Associated Press Stylebook (usually referred to as AP style) uses single quotation marks in headlines to save space.

  • ‘I Am Not a Vampire’ Says Mayor

Since headlines don’t include italics, words that would normally be italicized, like movie titles, are put in quotation marks instead.

  • Local Citizens Confused, Nauseated After Watching ‘Un Chien Andalou’

Twitter Wreaks Havoc on Punctuation

Single quotation marks tend to be the go-to in any medium where space is at a premium, such as Twitter (although that site is a bit of a punctuation free-for-all).

Merriam-Webster uses single quotation marks on Twitter as a replacement for italics, which aren’t available for the site. Thus you get tweets like the one below, where the word-as-word is in single quotation marks, and its gloss, or meaning, is in double quotation marks.

Merriam-Webster tweet
Merriam-Webster tweet

The logic is clear, but the effect is a little confusing.

Oxford Dictionaries declares both single and double quotation marks are acceptable in American usage, but urges writers to stick to one or the other. However, most authorities lean towards double quotation marks under ordinary circumstances.

Stills from 'Un Chien Andalou'
Local Citizens Confused, Nauseated After Watching ‘Un Chien Andalou’

If all this has your head spinning, just remember that the raison d’être of punctuation is clarity. First ask yourself, do you really need quotation marks around that word or phrase? Would italics work just as well, or better? (See Quotation Marks, Parts One and Two.) Second, will using both single and double quotation marks in the same piece make things more or less comprehensible for your readers? Is what you gain in precision worth what you’re losing in visual coherence?

Once you have pondered these questions and come to a decision, punctuate as you see fit. But be prepared to defend your choices to the death. Or at least on Twitter.

Saturday 5 November 2016

Quotation Marks, Part Two

[Part One]

Quotations marks are not, as some people seem to think, a good way to sexy up your signage with bizarre offers of “free” merchandise (meaning you have to pay?) or “special” deals (sounds suspicious). 

Thrashed by a Lady Cyclist, 1899
Though a member of the “weaker” sex, Claudette routinely thrashed bullies before breakfast.

Sneer Quotes

Putting quotation marks around a word is another way of saying “just kidding!” These so-called sneer quotes give a word an ironic or sarcastic spin. 

  • Though a member of the “weaker” sex, Claudette routinely thrashed bullies before breakfast.
  • Mikhail “borrowed” her Snuggie six months ago and has no intention of giving it back.

But don’t use quotation marks after the word so-called; that would be overkill.

Unfamiliar Words 

The first time you use a word or expression that might be unfamiliar to your readers, you may want to put it in quotation marks. It could be a technical term, a bit of obscure jargon, or a slang expression that’s out of keeping with the tone of your piece. You can skip the quotation marks for subsequent uses of the word. 

  • For the Caesar salad dressing, you will need to “coddle” an egg.
  • It is safe to say that Mr. Buckley was not “woke.”

Use this device sparingly, or you risk distracting your readers with too much punctuation. And don’t use it with widely familiar words, because that’s just annoying. 

  • X   I’m “hip” to the kids and their “funky” slang!

Words as Words

If you want to talk about a word itself rather than its meaning (for example, “Do you spell ‘color’ with a u?”), quotation marks are a good way to clarify your intention and avoid confusion. Or you can do as I do and use italics instead; both are correct.

  • Ming’s eight-year-old nephew confuses “cinnamon” with “synonym.”
  • He won the spelling bee with syphilis.

Definitions and Translations 

You can put the meaning, or gloss, of a word in either quotation marks or parentheses. The same goes for English translations of foreign words.

  • Blandishments is a word used here to mean “tight jeans and come-hither glances.”
  • After achieving satori (sudden enlightenment), the monk dedicated himself to practical jokes.

The monk Ikkyu and the courtesan Jigoku Dayu by Yoshitoshi
After achieving satori (sudden enlightenment), the monk dedicated himself to practical jokes.

Quotation Marks with Other Punctuation

While commas may go before dialogue, they don’t belong in front of words or phrases that are closely integrated into the rest of the sentence. 

  • Armin never would have told her to “keep the home fires burning” if he’d known her history of pyromania.
  • He told her, “Playing with matches is all very well, but a good insurance policy will keep you warm at night.”

Though the British would disagree, Americans and most Canadians put periods and commas inside closing quotation marks. However, exclamation points, question marks, colons, semicolons, and dashes only go inside quotation marks if they’re part of the element—whether dialogue, title, or expression—being enclosed.

  • Sulamith titled her essay on climate change “We’re All Doomed! Doomed!” 
  • How could you forget the words to “Kumbayah”? 
  • Coach’s pep talk included an inspiring line from Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”: “Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?” 
  • For the next class, read “From Weapon to Toy: A Concise History of the Yo-yo,” published in Modern Collector; the pamphlet “Walking the Dog and Other Tricks”; and “Yo Yo Ma: American Cellist.” 
  • With typical ebullience, Emily Dickinson wrote “Because I could not stop for Death— / He kindly stopped for me—” 
  • “Lice have certainly”—Mr. Jenkins paused and scratched his head—“never been a problem at this school.”

La Jeune Fille et la Mort by Marianne Stokes
With typical ebullience, Emily Dickinson wrote “Because I could not stop for Death— / He kindly stopped for me—”

When Not to Use Quotation Marks

As covered above and in Part One, you don’t need quotation marks for epigraphs (quotations at the beginning of a work or chapter), after so-called, or for widely known terms and expressions.

You also don’t need quotation marks for proverbs, titles at the head of a document, or the words yes and no—unless they’re presented as dialogue.

  • The guillotiners gruesomely embraced the adage that practice makes perfect.
  • How could anyone say no to that scaly little face?
  • Smiling widely, Puck replied, “Yes.”

Next time: The mysterious persistence of single quotation marks