Thursday, October 11, 2007

Imply and Infer -- our local paper got it right!

Ainge plans to be Vols' QB next season
Infers that Cutcliffe will return as UT's offensive coordinator

The headline and subhed above were from a Knoxville News Sentinel a year ago. UT Quarterback Erik Ainge (right) had, in fact, inferred that his brilliant coach, David Cutcliffe, was not planning on taking a head coaching job.
"I know that things happen," said Ainge in the story. "Several million dollars to coach a football team . . . I understand that. But he's not throwing his name out trying to find a job like that."

Right: "I implied but did not state openly that school would be called off after the snowstorm."
Right: "The students inferred from my statement that school would be called off after the snowstorm."

The writer or speaker implies; the reader or listener infers.

Imply means "to suggest without stating."
Infer means "to reach a conclusion based upon evidence."

This is found in Harbrace 's "Glossary of Usage" (pages G-1 through G-11 near the back, marked "usgl" in the upper right-hand corner of the right-hand pages), which lists the most commonly confused or misused words in our language.
If you haven't thumbed through these pages, it is a very good idea to do so. There are lots of questions in the new PSAT and SAT in which you must pick out words that are inexact, not quite right, or totally incorrect.

In the realm of "unspoken understanding," where the words above definitely reside, two good words to know are --

tacit -- unstated but understood. "We had a tacit understanding that I would clean up the house after our party."
acquiesce -- to accept or comply tacitly or passively; that is, without words or action. "By saying nothing, I acquiesced to the group's plan of going to the movie."

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