Q&A: Patently vs Blatantly

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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, it's all about “patently” vs “blatantly”.

Q: Hello AWC, no opening banter this week.

A: Are you sure of that?

Q: Absolutely. Going to just get straight into it.

A: Great idea.

Q: I thought so.

A: Excellent.

Q: So, can you tell me the difference between “patently” and “blatantly”?

A: Good question.

Q: I always assume “blatantly” means that something is obvious. But so often I see the news saying that something was “patently false” for example.

A: Well, both of these adverbs do mean similar things – but one is much older and generally considered more correct.

Q: Which one?

A: “Patently”. It has been around since the 1500s. It means “clearly or without doubt” and comes from the adjective “patent” – meaning “open”. You can also have a noun “patent” – such as a patent on an invention – and this originally meant “an open letter”.

Q: So does that mean “patently” is what we should be using?

A: Well, all it means is that it has been around longer. It doesn't make “blatantly” wrong though.

Q: So, when did “blatantly” arrive on the scene?

A: The word “blatant” had been bouncing around for a few hundred years before it latched onto its current meaning of “unashamedly conspicuous” in the late 1800s.

Q: So there is a subtle difference?

A: Yes, many consider “blatantly” has an obtrusive tone, being one of general disapproval or distaste – conveying an opinion. For example, “they blatantly disregarded the rules”. Meanwhile, “patently” would be used in more neutral or legal tones, such as “her statement was found to be patently false”. It sounds a little more balanced, hence the media enjoy it.

Q: It seems like a fine line.

A: Yes. While saying “patently false” is the more standard usage, there are times when an inherent veneer of disapproval is needed – giving you “blatantly false” to convey a particular mood.

Q: Yes, I think I would say that someone had “a blatant disregard for the truth”.

A: It's not wrong, and even has more venom to it. Just know that “patent” is also correct.

Q: I suppose the confusion comes because they sounds the same.

A: Only in British English regions – such as Australia. We say “PAY-TINT”, so yes it rhymes with “blatant”. However, US English says it “PAT-INT”, which causes no confusion whatsoever.

Q: I sometimes hear the “Patent Office” being said that way, even outside America.

A: Yes, for the noun – that is happening more and more. But for writing, none of that is relevant. And we recommend using “patently” unless you want to inject your statement with an opinionated observation.

Q: One last thing, can you take a look at this patent of mine? It's a typewriter that makes coffee as you write.

A: Keep talking…

Do 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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