The Grammarphobia Blog

A canine ripple effect

Q: I breed Golden Retrievers and have a question about the proper use of a word in a puppy’s name. Should it be “Ripple Affect (or Effect) of Kindness”? I have had so much input on this that I am no longer sure. HELP please!

A: The usual phrase is “ripple effect,” and it refers to the spreading influence of an action or event—in this case, the spreading (or rippling) influence of kindness.

The noun “effect” refers to a result, while the less-common noun “affect” is a psychological term that refers to feeling or emotion.

So the traditional way of referring to the puppy would be “Ripple Effect of Kindness.” However, people often take liberties in the use of language when naming dogs.

We suppose that “Ripple Affect of Kindness” could be seen as a creative play on words that refers to the rippling or spreading feeling of kindness.

But the use of “ripple affect” in this sense would undoubtedly raise a few eyebrows among sticklers. They would assume it was a mistake.

Another negative is that “affect” is often used in an unfavorable sense, as in “The psychiatrist says the suspect displays a lack of affect.”

And don’t forget that the two nouns are pronounced differently: “affect” is AFF-ect, while “effect” is ih-FECT (the “i” sounds like the one in “pit”).

When the term “ripple effect” first showed up in the late 1800s, it referred to physical rippling, such as the effect of moonlight on water or the movement of a skirt.

The earliest example in the Oxford English Dictionary of the phrase used in the usual modern sense is from the Feb. 14, 1966, issue of the Wall Street Journal:

“Price-boosting already is producing a ‘ripple effect’ in which companies pass on increased costs in higher price tags on their own products.”

In case you’d like to read more, we ran a post on our blog a few years ago about the use of the words “affect” and “effect.”

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