Q&A: Bias vs biased

Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we’re biased towards cakes…

Q: Hi AWC, is that cake?

A: Yes, it was someone’s birthday in the office.

Q: Oh, I really love cake. Although my dad was a baker, so I guess I’m bias.

A: Sorry?

Q: Don’t be sorry. There’s good dough to be made as a baker.

A: Groan. But no, we’re asking about your earlier sentence.

Q: The judge said that wouldn’t appear on my record!

A: Oh dear. We mean the sentence you wrote five lines ago.

Q: Ah okay. What about it?

A: You told us that you were “bias”. This is not correct.

Q: Well, I suppose you’re right – after all, having a father as a baker shouldn’t disqualify you from liking cake. So I guess I’m not bias after all.

A: Alright, enough. The word you want is “biased” – NOT “bias”!

Q: Really?

A: Yes. It’s an increasingly common mistake that could perhaps be forgiven in speech (the two words can sound similar when said quickly) but not acceptable in written form.

Q: Oh. Tell me more.

A: So, it’s a very simple rule. One is the noun “bias” – what Macquarie Dictionary describes as “a particular tendency, inclination or prejudice”. You HAVE a bias. While “biased” is an adjective – having or showing an opinion based on personal prejudice. You ARE biased.

Q: Examples?

A: “Growing up around cakes has made you biased in your opinion of them. This bias is evident to anyone you speak to.” Or, “The survey was biased against working mums.”

Q: Can I assume that the survey was about childcare?

A: We just made that example up.

Q: Well, sounds like it’s biased against ALL mums then. Sheesh… sensitive subject much?

A: Um. Okay.

Q: So what about a “bias-cut” dress?

A: Well, that’s simply another meaning that relates closer to the origin of the word. “Bias comes from French, and Greek before that – meaning “oblique” or “diagonal”. So a bias-cut is a diagonal cut – named by fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet in 1927.

Q: Hmmm, but I’ve also heard bias/biased used as a verb.

A: Yes, that’s true. So an example of this would be “The candidate tried to bias the recruiter with her short dress”.

Q: Was it a bias-cut dress?

A: No.

Q: Is another example, “The leaked news report biased the entire jury”?

A: It sure is. Although for both examples, we’d argue that “influence/influenced” is a better word.

Q: Okay, so it seems fairly straightforward. You can bias something, and you can have bias. And if you’re biased, there’s a chance you may have biased someone in the past.

A: Yes, but most important – never describe yourself as “bias”. It’s always “biased”.

Q: Is that your unbiased opinion?

A: It sure is.

Q: Anything else to add?

A: Actually yes. If you’re biased TOWARDS something, you’re actually in favour of it. Often, what you really mean is that you’re biased AGAINST something or someone.

Q: Ohhh, that’s a tricky one. 

A: Yes, it’s actually a common mistake – even for those who know the other rule.

Q: Quick side question – should we say “towards something” or “toward something”?

A: British English and Australian English tend to use “towards”, while American English prefers “toward”.

Q: Okay, good talk. Do you have any cake left?

A: All gone sorry.

Q: Well could you bias another one? Haha.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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