Pipe Implements Price

I expected better of you, MSNBC. “Gas Pipe in Chicago Effects Prices in Milwaukee Area.” Really?

Perhaps I should not have expected you to get that one right. Perhaps this is advanced stuff for, you know, journalists. Perhaps this is too complicated for some people. Perhaps it’s simply too confusing.

But I don’t think it’s really all that hard once you learn it. And more to the point, MSNBC, you’re in the business of providing concise, clear, correct headlines to the news someone else (in this case, the Associated Press) writes for you. The only input you have in the story is to slap a headline on it. Nine words are what your viewers take from you to learn if they want to read the story or not. You should take a moment to learn how to get them right in the future.

There are two levels to this writing trap. The way out of them is to remember the parts of speech. Remember that there are nouns — “a noun is a person, place or thing,” as you might recall — and verbs, which are “action words.” So your first step in choosing between “affect” and “effect” is to decide whether you’re using a noun or a verb. Here,

This is where it gets tricky — the words “affect” and “effect” can both be used as verbs or nouns.  So you need to remember four definitions instead of only two.


To Affect something is to alter or change it.

To Effect something is to enact or implement it.

“A” for “affect” equals “a” for “alter.”

“E” for “effect” equals “e” for “enact.”


An “affect” is one’s attitude — a psychological display of emotion.

An “effect” is an end product of something else — a result.

“A” for “affect” equals “a” for “attitude.”

“E” for “effect” equals “e” for “end result.”

So — what’s the relationship of the gas pipe leak in Chicago to gas prices in Milwaukee? One is changing the other. A gas pipe leak in Chicago will affect prices in Milwaukee.  (Note the use of “affect” as a verb.)  Milwaukee consumers paid $2.70 a gallon before the leak and $2.88 a gallon after the leak.

The effect of the pipe leak in Chicago was an eighteen-cent-per-gallon increase in Milwaukee.  (Note the use of “effect” as a noun.)

So who (olr what) effected gas prices in Milwaukee? The owners of the various Milwaukee-area gas stations, not the pipe leak in Chicago. 

After the prices went up, Milwaukee consumers exhibited a slightly more depressed affect.

Come on, MSNBC. Get it right. You’re in the business of using the English language in a more or less correct fashion. And this isn’t the first time someone’s tried to teach this distinction in a clear, easy-to-remember fashion — an aardvark can help you out if my explanation didn’t help you.

POSTSCRIPT — I also didn’t expect that a pop-up ad on MSNBC would infect my computer with a virus that would prove somewhat awkward to remove. MSNBC, when you outsource your advertisements, you outsource your ethics, and your ad provider may have paid you some money but they harmed your customer. He won’t be back.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.