Homophonic heterographs

You cannot play football at the professional level without having it effect – and quite possibly shorten – the rest of your life.
Joe Nocera ‘The Cost of Football Glory’ The New York Times Saturday 4 February 2012 page A19.

Language nazi reporting for duty!

There are homophonic heterographs – or, as I like to think of them, lexical doppelgängers –  among us, chameleon-esque pairs of words that confuse and confound by a contiguity of bogus identicalness promoted by misleading spelling, pronunciation, and/or semantics.  One such pack is today’s verbs ‘affect vs. effect’ – another is ‘lay vs. lie’, which I have already discussed elsewhere.

Somehow I don’t think the writer (or possibly it was some orthographically challenged proof reader) meant ‘effect’ in today’s epigraph, but confused it with ‘affect’.  Yes, the words sound pretty much the same.  You could even argue that, whatever the individual circuitously murky routes by which these two Latin compounds have crashed the modern English lexicon, their stems are, if not identical twins, certainly both related to Latin fac- (and its combinatorial allomorphs fic-, fec-[t]) ‘make, do’.  But … they are not the same, and they designate quite distinctive processes.

The word affect means, in nuce, to ‘influence, act on’.  By contrast, effect means ‘bring about, cause’.  Thus, you might well say ‘effect an affect’ or ‘affect an effect’, and you’d be talking about two quite different but possible processes.  But … if you say that “play[ing] football at the professional level” effects “the rest of your life”, you seem to me to imply that if you had not “play[ed] football at the professional level” you would not even have had “the rest of your life”, that is, it would never have come about.

Now compare: if you say that “play[ing] football at the professional level” affects “the rest of your life”, you are simply stating, quite reasonably, that your “play[ing] football at the professional level” had an influence (in terms of this article, a medical one) on “the rest of your life”.

My surmise is that this is what was intended by the writer (or that ditzy proof reader).

Please note that I’ve been talking above about the verbs ‘affect’ and ‘effect’: as to the differential grammaticalization of phonetically distinct AFfect [noun] vs. afFECT [verb] that does not [go figure!] hold for EFfect [*] vs. efFECT [noun and verb]… I leave that vermicular vessel to another day.]

I know, I know … it’s all a picky pedantic punctilious point I am making and I’m a picky pedantic punctilious prick1 for making it — but why shouldn’t I get to have some fun, too?

Hey, enlightened, you have a great day, now!

Note 1
On the other hand, maybe not such a picky pedantic punctilious prick after all!  My citation of the epigraph is from Saturday’s (4 February 2012) print edition, but this morning (Tuesday 7 February 2012) when I checked the article on the NYT website, poor ‘effect’ – as in one of those old propaganda photos of Mao and quondam friend, now become an enemy of the people and thus airbrushed out of existence – had been (as they apparently say in those dreadful South American jails about los desaparecidos) disappeared and in its place now stands self-righteous – voilà  – ’affect’!

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2 Responses to Homophonic heterographs

  1. heather says:

    and they didn’t announce the correction 🙂
    what about precede and proceed?

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