or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Head Case

There are only two reality shows that I have ever thought were worth a damn, Project Runway and The Amazing Race, and while the latter isn't what it used to be, Project Runway is still great, assuming the much-discussed move from Bravo to Lifetime doesn't somehow wreck it and the sacking of one of the show's judges, Nina Garcia, from Elle Magazine doesn't get her tossed from the show as well.

One of the contestants in the most recent season, Chris March, was vying for one of the four final spots, and his collection used human hair, to the dismay of most of the judges. But why not? Women put human hair on their heads, in the form of wigs and weaves; why is it so horrible to attach it to clothing instead?

This picture doesn't really do it justice: the way it moved when the models walked down the catwalk was amazing.

Anyway, people have been using human hair for a long, long time for various purposes. (In Victorian times, mourning jewelry was made from the hair of the recently deceased; it's prettier than you might think.) Here's a most interesting article from Salon.com about a glut in the human hair market a century ago. And smack in the middle of Salon's transcription of the original New York Times story was this sentence:

A well-known theatrical wigmaker agreed that the increased supply of Korean hair may indirectly effect the false hair fashion in society circles.

And I thought, "Oh, come on!" But I went to the original story, and damned if that same mistake wasn't right there.
(You can see the original original here.)

A lot of people, it would seem, can't tell "affect" from "effect". This may be because they're pronounced almost identically, or it may be because each word can serve, in the correct context, as either a noun or a verb.

But "affect" is virtually always a verb; it acts as a noun only when it means "the visible display of an emotional state", and then it's pronounced differently, with the emphasis on the first syllable. Hardly anybody uses this word in this context except doctors and pretentious actors.

"Effect", on the other hand, is virtually always a noun: it can be used as a verb meaning "to cause to happen", but this is not especially common in English. Common enough (it's most often found, I think, in the expression "to effect change"), and legitimate, but not usual.

Generally speaking, if it's a verb you want, then the correct spelling is "affect", and if it's a noun, then you want "effect". You would think that someone at the New York Times would have known this, even back in 1910, when the rules were the same as they are now.


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