Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fondue vs. Fondant

It's not often that the misuse of a word leads to a death threat. But that was the case last week in Dorchester, Massachusetts:
A disagreement over the correct use of the word "fondue" led a Dorchester woman to threaten to kill a cake store clerk on Friday, according to Brookline police.
This lede is from the account in the online newspaper Wicked Local Brookline. Apparently, the suspect entered the Party Favors Brookline store and took offense when the clerk corrected her usage of the word "fondue" when she meant "fondant icing." From Wicked Local:
“Fondue, fondant, who gives a f---. You’ve had an attitude the whole time,” Bogues [the suspect] told the employee, according to the police report.
Bogues then allegedly threatened to kill the store clerk. Oh my.

Is this simply a case of you say "fondue," I say "fondant"?

Nope. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., defines fondant as "a soft creamy preparation of sugar, water, and flavorings that is used as a basis for candies or icings." And as anyone who lived through the 1970s knows, fondue is a dish with melted cheese (or other hot liquid, such as chocolate) that you dip pieces of food into. (Fondue seems to be making a comeback. A dear college friend recently invited me over for a fondue dinner, and in the same week he was invited to his neighbor's place for another fondue party. Coincidence, or hot trend?)

Here's the point of this post: Beware whom you correct. (Notice the "whom" not "who"!) If you upset the wrong person, they might just skip the fondue and try to do you in.

"Fondue me" T-shirt available at

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stigma vs. Stigmata

It's an occupational hazard for copy editors: feeling superior to everyone who can't spell, can't write clearly, can't get a fact right.

Maybe that's why the profession is often stigmatized. (From stigma, Latin for mark or brand; characterized as disgraceful or ignominious.)

A word of warning to other copy editors: Never underestimate your own ignorance. My recent case in point: stigmata.

On one of the blogs I follow, a reader left a comment and referred to the "stigmata of being gay." I genuinely laughed out loud when I read that. The idea of any of my gay friends bleeding from their hands or suffering from other wounds resembling those of the crucified Jesus was ludicrous.

Then I looked up the word stigmata. It turns out that stigmata is the preferred plural form for stigma in most dictionaries. So the reader was correct in his comment about the stigmata (read, stigmas) of being gay.

I never knew that and always thought the plural was stigmas. That's usually the alternate plural, although Garner's Modern American Usage advises: "The English plural (-mas) is preferable in most contexts."

I agree with Bryan Garner and advise stigmas for the plural form, unless referring to the religious meaning of the word.

Now I'll go back to feeling superior about catching other people's mistakes.

"I'd shake your hand, but I've been having stigmata recently." T-shirt available at