Words: Affect

Related Topics
RODIN'S sculpture, The Kiss, now on show in Lewes, Sussex, was banished by the genteel folk of that town 70 years ago, I read in the Times, "for fear of its erotic affect". And in the same issue my old colleague Jasper Gerard tells us in his diary column that an introduction, of Peter Mandelson to the head of Goldman Sachs, was "affected" by its chief economist Gavyn Davies. Tut, tut, you may say.

But before you start what Private Eye's Glenda Slag would have called "asneerin' and ajeerin' " at the illiterate hacks on the Times, who don't seem to know the difference between affect and effect, I must remind you that they are by no means the first to have confused them. The Oxford English Dictionary records instances dating from between 1494 and 1772, when that very mistake was made by the great globe-trotting travel writer James Cook, who put effect, when he should have put affect.

Both James Cook and Mr Gerard have their excuses, though they are very different ones. Johnson's dictionary, which did more than anything else to regularise our spelling, had been out less than 20 years when Cook was writing. As for Mr Gerard, no doubt he, or his sub-editor, used a computer spell-checking facility before the column went to press, so they couldn't be accused of neglectfulness.

The trouble with those spell-checkers is that their little electronic brains know nothing about the context, so they were no help to Mr Gerard. They are treacherous friends. It is often pointed out that spelling mistakes became more common when too many teachers stopped bothering to correct them, but our increasing reliance on spell-checks is probably going to make things worse rather than better.

Nor are they much help when, as in this case, two quite different words tend to sound the same. (I did have a great-aunt who pronounced one of them "iffect" to make sure we knew what exactly it was she was talking about.)

It is just remotely possible, however, that whoever wrote that bit about The Kiss had at the back of his or her mind another pronunciation of affect, the one that has its stress on the first syllable. An affect in this sense is an emotion, more or less uncontrolled, of pain or pleasure, and I suppose you could talk about an erotic affect, though that sort of talk is more suited to psychologists than to journalists on daily papers, and I don't think the Times deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The psychologists' word must presumably have come from the original verb, to affect (as pronounced normally), which at first meant to love or like. Only later did it take on the meaning "to assume a liking for", leaving the genuine emotion to be expressed by affection, and the false by affectation. The other affect, "to influence" or "act on", seems to come from a similar Latin verb that had nothing to do with the emotions, which is perhaps why you can be deeply affected by a friend's kindness while at the same time complaining that your lungs are affected by his smoking.

Not that etymology can define meanings. But it does show how meanings have changed, a very different matter.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Richmond Fellowship Scotland: Executive Director

£66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Recruitment Genius: Office Junior

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Site Agent

£22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This traditional family company...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Fighters from Isis parading in Raqqa, northern Syria, where the ‘Islamic State’ has its capital; Iranian-backed Shia militia are already fighting the group on the ground in Iran  

Heartlessness towards refugees is the lifeblood of jihadist groups like Isis

Charlie Winter
Refugees try to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia, near Gevgelija, on Wednesday. The town sits on the ‘Balkan corridor’ used by refugees, mostly from Syria, to travel from Turkey to Hungary, the gateway to the EU  

The UK response to the plight of Syrian refugees is a national embarrassment

Kevin Watkins
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent