Hold steady, staunch companions

August 08, 2012|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

A correspondent offers this specimen from theatlantic.com: "But if framed properly, Dingell's bill could well map a way for Congress to staunch the corrupting influence of Super PAC spending without forcing the Court to eat its Citizens United words."

"Just w.r.o.n.g," she remarks, and I'm inclined to agree.

Staunch, an adjective meaning "strong," "true'" brave," loyal," and stanch, a verb meaning "to stop the flow of," both derive from the French estancher.* They split up and went their separate ways a long time back, but the similarity in sound and spelling periodically leads to staunch for stanch, and sometimes the reverse.

This is a distinction worth maintaining, and for once the authorities tend to agree. Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says, "The two spelling variants have been in reputable use for centuries, and they are standard both for the verb and the adjective." Garner's Modern American Usage rates staunching for stanching as "Widely shunned." The current edition of the American Heritage Dictionary acknowledges the variants but says in a usage note that the standard distinctions are still the most common.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English indicates that staunch, in either sense, is far more common than stanch, and it is entirely possible that the latter word will eventually be overwhelmed.

But we're not there yet.

*Another reminder that etymology is not destiny.

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