Affect Or Effect? 'Grammar Girl' Is Here To Help Further versus farther, compliment versus complement, affect versus effect — the ever-complex, often-irregular English language is full of traps and pitfalls. But don't despair! Grammar Girl's 101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again is a gentle guide to proper usage.
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Affect Or Effect? 'Grammar Girl' Is Here To Help

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Affect Or Effect? 'Grammar Girl' Is Here To Help

Affect Or Effect? 'Grammar Girl' Is Here To Help

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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NEAL CONAN, host: Some words we confuse: further versus farther. Some sound the same, but mean different things: peak, peek and pique. Or the infamous dilemma of when to say affect or effect. Is that - or is that a notorious dilemma? Grammar Girl, also known as Mignon Fogarty, addresses these and many others in a new book, "101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again." Which word or word pair do you get wrong? Our phone number: 800-989-8255. Email us:

You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Mignon Fogarty is also the creator of the "Grammar Girl" weekly podcast, and joins us now from member station KUNR in Reno. And thanks very much for being with us today.

MIGNON FOGARTY: You bet. Hi, Neal. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: And I have to confess, you hit my confusion on page 39, the distinction between disinterested and uninterested.

FOGARTY: Oh, right. Well, you know, if you think about a trial, you want a judge who is disinterested, who has no stake in the case. An uninterested person doesn't care. So, you know, in a judicial case - a court case, you want the judge to care. You want him to stay awake. If he were uninterested, he may fall asleep. But a disinterested judge, that's what you want, someone who is impartial.

CONAN: And not only do you draw that distinction, you give us a little tip on how to remember.

FOGARTY: Right. I mean, unless you're a lawyer, the word you're usually looking for is uninterested. And a person who's uninterested is unconcerned. You've got those two un- words together.

CONAN: Well, if you're interested...


CONAN: this conversation and some of the distinctions that are involved in "101 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again," give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: And I have to say that some of these are grammar. Some of them are confusion over words that sound alike but are spelled differently and, of course, mean very different things. Baited, for example, as in fishing, or bated, as in breath.


FOGARTY: Right. And, you know, people - you can see why people may be confused. Some people will spell bated breath like they would spell baiting a fishhook. You're trying to lure someone. But when you're talking about bated breath, it comes from Shakespeare. It's actually one of the words Shakespeare invented. And you can talk about "The Merchant" - I think it was "The Merchant of Venice," where the moneylender talked about having a bated breath, which means sort of held breath, you know, holding in abatement.

So it means, you know, to reduce. So he was holding his breath, waiting for something to happen. He was waiting with a bated breath. He had a bated breath. And so it's about that delay, that holding. It doesn't have anything to do with fishing or bait.


FOGARTY: So it's spelled B-A-T-E, like abate.

CONAN: Here's an email from Janice in Gillette, Wyoming: I abhor hearing snuck. It hurts my ears. Sneaked is the proper usage. I hear snuck on television, radio and read in books. You would think professional people would know better. It's now acceptable as the Americanized colloquial usage of sneaked. Unfortunately, when I looked it up in the dictionary, snuck is in there. For shame. Thanks for letting me vent. As much as I would like to correct people, I do not. Snuck, you argue in the book is one of those made-up words that really isn't.

FOGARTY: Yes. But it's one of my embarrassments, so I grew up saying snuck instead of sneaked. It's more common in certain regions. And so I said snuck in one of the "Grammar Girl" podcasts and got a flood of email complaining and then looked it up myself and found that it's true...

CONAN: Oops.

FOGARTY: ...sneaked is the more common form. It's the more accepted form. And snuck is, you know, one of those Americanisms that's becoming more common as language changes, but it's still not the preferred form. So...


CONAN: There's...

FOGARTY: ...I learned the hard way.


CONAN: ...a couple of other non-words that you mentioned: Skiddish, for example, with two Ds, might refer to a poorly engineered car.


FOGARTY: Right. Well, skiddish with Ds is not a word. Skittish is spelled with Ts, and it comes from an old Norse word that means to shoot. So I always think you can think of people shooting skeet and skeet ends with a T. So that's how I remember that skittish is spelled with Ts.

CONAN: And the other one now, the bete noire, if you will, of every fifth-grade teacher: irregardless.

FOGARTY: Oh, I know. Irregardless and it's in dictionaries, and it makes people crazy. It's a double negative, regard, less, the less is sort of a negative and then the ir is a negative, too. So irregardless means without without regard. You know, it's one of those things - people go crazy when they say it qualifies as a word, but it does. It's used enough that you know what people mean when they say it, and it's in the dictionary. But just because it's a word and just because it's in the dictionary, it doesn't mean you should use it. If you use it, you're marking yourself as less educated. And it will hurt you among people who care about language. So don't use irregardless even though it's in the dictionary.

CONAN: We're talking Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl. 800-989-8255. Email us: Paul is on the line from Northglenn in Colorado.

PAUL (Caller): Yes, Neal. I listen to your show every day.

CONAN: Thank you.

PAUL: Is the word assume, assuming the meaning of presume. More and more it sounds like that to me.

FOGARTY: It is. People don't know the difference, but it's actually - it's kind of interesting the way I remember. So when you assume something you have no reason to make that assumption. When you presume something, you have some underlying reason that you think that might be true. So I always think of the phrase Doctor Livingston, I presume, because the explorer who was searching for Doctor Livingston expected to find him. He hoped to find Doctor Livingston. So when he said, Doctor Livingston, I presume, it was because the guy he found did look like Doctor Livingston.

PAUL: OK. And then, also, it doesn't have anything to do with the other meaning of assume, meaning to assume an identity.

FOGARTY: Oh, yeah. I can't imagine you'd ever say I presume an identity.

PAUL: Right.

FOGARTY: I guess, maybe...

CONAN: Maybe.

FOGARTY: ...someone would make that mistake.


CONAN: Thanks very much for the call.

PAUL: OK. Thank you.

CONAN: There are other meanings that have sort of merged together, hilarious and hysterical, for example.

FOGARTY: Oh, yes. Well, you know, people will say hysterical when they think something is funny. But hysterical actually means excited in a negative way, you know, you're anxious and excited. And hysterical comes from the same root as hysteria, and it's a Greek word that means womb. And you're like, womb? What would that have to do with hysteria? But it comes from the old idea that only women could be emotionally excited. So, you know, when you're saying someone is hysterical, it's like, you know, hysterical laughter after a bank robbery when everyone is freaking out. That could be a hysterical laughter. But it's not - something that's just really funny is hilarious.

CONAN: Let's get Spencer on the line. Spencer with us from Wichita. Spencer, you there? OK. I guess Spencer has left us. Let's go instead to - this is Jim. Jim with us from Baton Rouge.

JIM (Caller): Hello, Marcia(ph).

CONAN: It's Mignon, actually.

JIM: Oh, I'm sorry. Very sorry.


JIM: My problem is with news organizations, both radio and television, who like to create this word having to do with court cases, because I have read a book, but I have never readed one. And I have led an army but never leaded once. And I have fled the scene but never fleded. And in fact, somebody had pled guilty but never pleaded.

FOGARTY: Yes. Yeah. I know it's a common confusion. It is.


CONAN: There's one in the book...

JIM: These are national news folks that are just blaring it out on television. It's so frustrating.


CONAN: Well, every once in a great while, we do get something wrong, Jim.


CONAN: We try to restrain ourselves. But thanks very much.

FOGARTY: It's a lot easier when you're writing than when you're speaking. When you're speaking, you can't go back and edit yourself.

CONAN: And if you're speaking in front of a live microphone for long enough, you're going to say something phenomenally stupid.


CONAN: There's another one that you draw the distinction of and it's also difficult, the distinction between hanged versus hung.

FOGARTY: Oh, right. And it's interesting because there used to be two words. They were different words for to hang. You know, to dangle a person from a rope, we use hanged for that. And then, you say curtains are hung or pictures are hung. And the reason they think that hanged hung around for the execution is because it's a legal term, and terms that are in the law tend to stay unchanged longer because they become so much more formal and formalized within legal proceedings. So people are hanged and curtains are hung.

CONAN: Here's an email from Angela in Belleville, Illinois. Why do so many people say now revenues when revenue is already plural? Does it make them sound smart?

FOGARTY: Oh, I don't know. That's a really good question. I don't know if I've heard that very often. People will say monies instead of money and that always bothers me. It seems kind of unnecessary.

CONAN: This is from John in St. Paul. I hate, hate, hate it when people use the phrase, due to. This phrase is regularly used instead of because of or with regard to. And that's another one that you address in the book.

FOGARTY: Right. Because of is almost always the right choice. I was almost late for the interview because of pigeons in our skyway. But the due to is best, usually you want to reserve that for a time when you're saying something, like, the money is due to her. You know, it's owed to is more commonly the right choice for due to.

CONAN: I was interested that amongst the words you say - you do not include amongst the words that are most often misused, enormity, which I find people now continually confused with something of great size.

FOGARTY: Right. Enormity, if I remember correctly, that means something that's just completely terrible.

CONAN: The enormity of the Holocaust, for example.

FOGARTY: Exactly. And enormousness, you know, I was stunned by the enormousness of the Grand Canyon. You know, if you say the enormity of the Grand Canyon impressed you, you're saying it was horrible.


FOGARTY: So, yeah, that's another commonly confused pair.

CONAN: "100 Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again" is Mignon Fogarty's new book as Grammar Girl. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Leslie, another caller from St. Paul.

LESLIE: Hi. I'm laughing so hard. I'm feeling a little bit hysterical, so I apologize in advance.


LESLIE: I can't count the number of times I've had to explain the difference to people between I could care less and I couldn't care less. Can you please comment on that?

FOGARTY: Oh, I know. Well, you know, some people say, I could care less as an idiom and everyone knows what it means. But literally, if you say, I could care less, it means you have a little bit of caring in you and that's usually not what you mean. So, you know, if you want to be precise, then you should say, I couldn't care less, if you don't care.

LESLIE: But people have a hard time understanding that, and I don't understand why they do.

FOGARTY: I know. I don't really understand why either, because it's not logical. But I think a lot of times we grow up hearing it said a certain way. I mean, I know I've certainly heard, I couldn't care less or I could care less. Now, I get confused about which is which because I talk about them so often.


FOGARTY: It's the same thing, sometimes I find myself saying irregardless instead of regardless because I talk about that error so much.


FOGARTY: So, you know, but you'll hear it both ways. And, you know, if people in your family are saying it the wrong way, you're going to pick that up. And I think that's how things get perpetuated.

LESLIE: Right. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is Daniel. Daniel with us from Little Rock.

DANIEL: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

DANIEL: This conversation is really impacting me. Oh, by the way, my favorite hated word is impact.

FOGARTY: Oh, no.

DANIEL: Being used to make an impact, whereas impact means to smash into or whatever.


DANIEL: And you hear it all over the news. Every newscaster is talking about impacting.

FOGARTY: I know. When I talk about this to groups, I show them a picture of a car hitting a tree and say, that's an impact.


FOGARTY: Actually, you know, impact as a verb is where it's really wrong. And you can use impact as a noun. You can say, oh, the rain had an impact on fourth quarter sales.

DANIEL: Right. Exactly. Or something made an impact. Yeah.

FOGARTY: Right. But you really shouldn't say the rain impacted fourth quarter sales because then, really, it just means hit in that way. And that's another thing that's sort of inching into the language. So many people in business use it.

DANIEL: It's a losing battle.

FOGARTY: I'm afraid...

DANIEL: (unintelligible) given up on it.


FOGARTY: I haven't given up yet, but it's one of those things - it's a battle that we do have to keep fighting. It's one of the active battles.


CONAN: Thanks, Daniel.

DANIEL: Thanks for letting me talk.

CONAN: Appreciate it. There is another one that is creeping into merged meanings, momentarily and in a moment.

FOGARTY: Oh, right. And that's one that I say, actually, in the book is a lost battle. So, you know, 100 years ago, momentarily meant for a moment. And so sticklers will still say, you know, if you say we stopped momentarily for gas, that would be for a moment. That would be the right thing. If you're in an airplane and they say, we'll be in Phoenix momentarily, you know, sticklers would say that means you're only going to be in Phoenix for a moment.

CONAN: A touch and go is what pilots would say. They wouldn't stop and open the doors.

FOGARTY: Right. Exactly. So, you know - but now it's one of those things. It is a battle that most language experts say is lost. And now momentarily means in a moment. Very careful - people who are very careful with their language will say for a moment instead of momentarily or will use momentarily to only mean for a moment.

CONAN: Jack is on the line from - is this San Francisco?

JACK: Yes, that's right.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JACK: My peeve that I'm hearing pretty much everywhere and I'm ready - almost ready to give up on and I'm curious about what you have to say about it is people think different than instead of different from. I want to know if you think that's ever correct.

FOGARTY: I know. I can't think of an example, but there are rare instances where that can be the better way to say it. But, you know, different from is the correct phrase 98 percent of the time. And I always remember that from is the right choice because I look at those two Fs in the middle of different and then that's the cue for me to remember that the right word choice is from and not than.

JACK: Well, 98 percent of people think different than these days.


CONAN: Well, Jack, thanks very much. I have to say, here's an email from Kreig(ph) that says: There are so many intelligent people call the speaker's note table a podium. A podium is a little platform than an orchestra conductor stands on. I remember and I will never forget this ever again because Daniel Schorr once corrected me when I called something podium. He said, that's a lectern.

FOGARTY: Right. Yeah. Podium and lectern, I've covered those. They're not in the book. But, you know, I think - if I remember right, podium comes from the same root as podiatrist. So I always think of a podium as something you stand on.

CONAN: And a lectern is something you read from. The same word - they're two Latin words, so you can keep those straight. But Mignon Fogarty, thank you for not lecturing to us from the lectern. We appreciate your time today. Good luck with the book.

FOGARTY: Thank you. Words are fun.

CONAN: Grammar Girl's "100 Words Misused Words You'll Never Confuse Again." And she spoke to us from KUNR, our member station in Reno in Nevada.

Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. Ira Flatow is in San Antonio where they'll talk about the science behind the perfect porterhouse. We'll be back on Monday. Join us then. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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