Friday, November 5, 2010

Where's the E?


Have you ever wondered why grades jump from D to F and exclude E?

You haven’t? Really? I don’t understand. What do you spend your time thinking about?

Well, I have wondered. So I poked around a little bit on Google, and I found a pretty logical explanation:

It dates back to the 1690s, around the time of the Salem Witch Trials. People were very superstitious at the time, and during an outbreak of the ebola virus, the magistrates prohibited anyone from using the letter E because they thought it would summons the ebola virus from the spirit world.

Okay, that’s not really why. It’s because, as many of you may remember, back in elementary school, this scale was used:

E= Excellent
S= Satisfactory
N= Needs to improve
U- Unsatisfactory.

So, if they had started to use E to indicate a failing grade, the students may have mistakenly thought they did an excellent job. Therefore, they opted for the next letter in line, which worked out swimmingly because F is the first letter in FAIL.

I can see their point, but still, I think it’s weird to just skip the letter E completely, so I propose this compromise:


I like it because it sounds like F, but it doesn’t just neglect E all together.

I also like it because, as you will see momentarily, it will help me explain something that has always been very difficult for me in the past, something I have managed to avoid during my eleven months of blogging about common grammar errors, something I knew I’d have to address one of these days and now have to because somebody asked: affect versus effect.

To tackle this daunting task, let’s start with the definitions of affect and effect:

Affect is a verb that means "to influence.”
Effect is a noun that means "a result.”

In a sentence, affect can be replaced with influence:

The weather affects my grades.
The barometric pressure also influences my grades.

And effect can be replaced with result.

Rain has a negative effect on my grades.
Barometric pressures below thirty have a negative result on my grades.

So, how do we remember this?

One way we can remember that affect with an A means to influence is because Type A personalities are the ones who do the influencing.

Another trick we can use is that affect with an A is a verb, which is an action word. Affect starts with an A and action starts with an A.

Now, on to effect:

Effect with an E means a result. Grades are results, and if we remember that EF is the new F, then we can remember to use EFfect when writing about results.

Have an effin' great weekend!


Christopher said...

I hate to admit it... but yes I have wondered. Thanks for the enlightenment.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I've never confused "affect" and "effect", because the former reminds me of "affected", and affected people don't have much of an effect. However, I never knew there was no 'E' grade.

pal shazar said...

brilliant as always.

Joanna St. James said...

ha ha nice one

terriblywrite said...

Back in the day, when I was in grammar school and grammar schools taught actual grammar, before the invention of spell checkers, grammar checkers, and Chinese checkers, I learned a mnemonic for remembering that "effect" was a noun: causE and Effect. You were supposed to remember that "causE" ends in E and "Effect" begins with an E. And they are both nouns. Except when they're verbs.

Boonie S said...

This is great stuff, none of which I already knew.
By the way, in the elementary school grades the only one that I was familiar with was U.

Have a nice day, from Boonie

keppi baranick said...

yes, I agree, brilliant as always.

David L Macaulay said...

Interesting blog - I taught English for a while but gave up. I think I would have been great if it wasn't for the students. But I still tutor so this site is most useful.

Hart Johnson said...

I'm so messed up. See, to a psychologist, AFFECT is expressed emotion. 'she has low affect' means she hides her feelings.--I KNEW the others at one point, but seem to use effect for both...

And FYI, in Ann arbor, if a kid fails, they get an E. Somebody along the line decided skipping it was a bad idea.

MartyrMom said...

Oh my! another good one is rather and whether. Have you written on that yet?
Left you an award at my site.
Thanks again for the lesson!
PS we had E's when I went to school. Back then they just used check marks in K-3 then you started with all the letter grades.

Georgina Dollface said...

I remember the difference because 'affect' reminds me of the word 'Aflac', which reminds me of that annoying duck on TV and the way his quacking affects me by giving me mild side-effects like nausea and vomiting. (Did I get them all right? Or do I get a big fat EF?) - G

Talli Roland said...

I never actually noticed (in America, anyway)! But come to think of it, in the the UK the grades go:
G (just barely a pass)
U (fail)

So the E is there!

Mary Aalgaard said...

I wondered about the "E", too.

HulaBuns said...

Great lesson and post! Now I'm going to get the 'eff out of here... ;)

j.m. neeb said...

Your transactions have a profound effect on me... They affect me by providing a feeling of genuine impressedness -- definitely a word -- every time I read your posts!

(I love learning while being entertained!) (And using exclamation points!)

Theresa Milstein said...

Effin' makes sense to me. E is a little to much like excellent. What would the E stand for? F for Fail does make more sense.

And yes, I have always wonder this E skipping. I wish it were because of the Salem Witch Trials. I could bring that up during a SS lesson.