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 are unfazed about this week’s Q&A.
Q: Hi AWC, I was chatting to a friend the other day.
A: Are you trying to brag that you have friends?
Q: No, there’s more to this story.
A: Ah, okay. Do continue.
Q: Well, they had written that they weren’t “fazed” about their job being “phased” out. But I pulled them up on “faze” being the American spelling, right?
A: First, what job are they losing?
Q: She works for a video rental store that also sells camera film, encyclopedias and mapbooks.
Q: So am I right about “faze”?
A: Well, clearly your friend is having a bad week. But at least this will cheer them up. You’re wrong.
A: Absolutely. But as a consolation prize, you’re not alone in your thinking.
Q: So it has nothing to do with American vs British English?
A: Nope. Although you probably got that idea from America always adding -ZE on the end of words (organize, specialize etc) when everyone outside North America uses -SE (organise, specialise etc). “Faze” and “phase” seem to fit this form.
Q: They do.
A: But that’s merely a coincidence.
Q: English 1 Logic 0
A: Yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, so each word has a purpose and means different things. First up, “phase” – well, it has a bunch of meanings. As a noun it can be a stage of development (eg “the growth phase”) or new state – such as a phases of the moon (the oldest definition, dating back to 1705). It also has meanings in other things including biology, chemistry and physics.
Q: It’s a busy word.
A: Yes, and that’s before we think about the verb, such as “to phase in a new procedure across the company” etc. Or having your role “phased out”. These are relatively new – dating back to about 1950.
Q: And “faze”?
A: This word really only has one definition – a verb which Macquarie Dictionarydefines as “to disturb; discomfit; daunt”. It also lists it as a variant of the now obsolete “feeze” – meaning to disturb or worry. “Faze” first appeared in the mid 19th century.
Q: So if you’re “unfazed”, you’re not worried.
A: Exactly. Although using the adjective “unfazed” didn’t turn up until the 1930s.
Q: Wait a moment. “Discomfit”? Don’t they mean “discomfort”?
A: No they don’t. “To discomfit” is a verb, meaning to defeat, disconcert or throw into perplexity. Meanwhile “discomfort” is the result of that – typically a noun relating to being uncomfortable.
Q: I did not know this.
A: Think of it as “discomfit” = to embarrass, while “discomfort” = embarrassment.
Q: Well, we have entered a new phase in which I appear to not be fazed by new words just popping up.
A: Glad to hear it. And we hope your friend finds another job.
Q: Actually, she’s already got another one.
Q: Yes, she starts at the fax machine factory on Monday…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!