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Note to court: Effect is a noun; affect is a verb ... except when they're not
By Peter Hancock
By now, politicians and legal scholars of all stripes have found things they either love or hate in the lengthy school finance decision in the case of Gannon vs. Kansas. So at the risk of piling on, let me just add one of my own little pet peeves: the consistent misuse of the words "effect" and "affect."
By my count, there are no fewer than 19 instances of those words, or their derivatives, being misused in the document. That averages out to one instance every 13.2 pages. (The initial text version that I opened in the OpenOffice Writer program came out to 326 pages, but the official version posted on the court's website in .pdf format is 251 pages, plus appendices.)
I started noticing this within minutes of receiving the ruling on Jan. 11. But in the rush to get stories posted online, and later filed for the print edition, we all had bigger issues to deal with. And I'll admit, if anyone happened to read a few of those initial online posts before the editors had time to catch them, they would have found more than a couple sentences with missing words or syntax errors of my own making.
But let's be clear. This decision was written by not one, but three highly educated, veteran jurists who were aided by clerical staffs and who took more than four months to finish their writing.
So, to review our high school English lessons:
"Effect" is a noun. One thing has an effect on another thing. It is only used as a verb in the sense of bringing about the effect of something. The word "effectuate" also works in that sense, but only if you're not afraid of sounding pompous.
"Affect" is a verb: The Jayhawks' win over K-State last night affected the two teams' standings in the Big 12 Conference. There are rare cases when "affect" is used as a noun, such as when political scientists refer to a candidate's "political affect" — the ability to generate feelings or emotions, especially affection. Outside of academia, though, it probably should be avoided unless, again, you don't mind coming off as a snoot.
In the court's lengthy tome, however, the words seem to be used interchangeably, and almost always incorrectly. A few examples:
• "The staff and program cuts occasioned by reductions to the (base state aid per pupil) look to have effected all school districts." (Page 108.)
• "What the affect of this represented philosophical change in the (local option budget) is, what changes to state supplemental aid payments mean, and what the effect of reductions in the base student aid per pupil (BSAPP) is, all need to be considered." (Page 86)
I especially like that last one because it uses both words in one sentence, one incorrectly and one correctly.
There is one passage, though, where both words are used side-by-side, and it's hard to tell what either one of them means. Moreover, it appears to be a fairly important sentence:
• "The State of Kansas is hereby enjoined from performing the unconstitutional act of enacting any appropriation, or directing, modifying or canceling any transfer, or using any accounting mechanism or other practice that would, will, or may in due course, affect, effect, or fund less than the base student aid per pupil of $4492 ..." (Page 247)
Such errors can negatively affect the public's view of the court and the legitimacy of its opinions. We'll have to wait and see what effect, if any, it has on the Kansas Legislature.