“I have always struggled with <effect> and <affect>”, I admit to my new student, a soft spoken fourteen year-old boy. He looks down still smiling and attempts to help his fellow dyslexic. “Well, the one with the <e> is like something that happens to you. And the other is like what you do to someone…. I think.” He’s explaining parts of speech without realizing it. “Yes.” I grin. “One is a verb and one is a noun, but why is really what I want to know. Right? Let’s take a look at these prefixes, shall we?”

We have started this discussion with the question of “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, something that is often laughed about, but actually hinders so many, especially here in the midwest, where winter seems to stretch endlessly, displaying its gray face throughout the months after the holidays. Now, this teenager and I venture in this family of <fect> and its many relatives. The Latin infinitive <facere> means “to make, or do”, and comes from an ancient root that holds a denotation of “set or put”. 

“Have you ever been told to ‘put on a happy face?’”, I ask. He smiles and says yes, or at least that he’s heard it. I think about the holidays and how sometimes we smile even when opening gifts that make us cringe internally. “It’s the thought that counts,” my daughter dutifully parrots, when reading a favorite book, Thank You, Mr. Panda.This <facere> family contains words that have a meaning of “face”, like <superficial> and <facade>, something that is put on or on top of. But my five year-old’s phrase is more than a facade, it’s analyzing the effect of your words and reactions on another person. Showing gratitude for someone else and appreciating what they have done for you, trying to find the perfect gift. 

“<Perfect>, or  per + fect,” I explain, bringing my musings back to our study, “means ‘thoroughly, or completely done or made’.” I imagine the ding of an oven timer and a gingerbread man, lightly crisped and ready for decoration. “Yeah, but nothing is really perfect,” my eighth grader reminds me. I pause and appreciate his contribution. “True. And honestly, who wants to be “completely done?”

This holiday season, I wish you, Reader, depth. May you find peace and beauty in the things yet to be completed. May you be entirely affected with joy, ready to face the next few months of Old Man Winter.


Kelly Young
Kelly Young
I am a self-proclaimed word nerd bred from a family of language lovers and teachers. I began my career as an Intervention Specialist, spending 11 years in a Columbus Ohio public school district, working with kids K – 5.