Q&A: Phase vs faze

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.

A: Ouch.

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.

Q: Really?

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.

A: Great!

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!


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