affectation

noun

af·​fec·​ta·​tion ˌa-ˌfek-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce affectation (audio)
1
a
: speech or conduct not natural to oneself : an unnatural form of behavior meant especially to impress others
His French accent is just an affectation.
b
: the act of taking on or displaying an attitude or mode of behavior not natural to oneself or not genuinely felt
speaking honestly without affectation
mocked his piety as affectation
2
obsolete : a striving after

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Affectation and Affection

Affectation looks a lot like a much more common word, affection. But the two are used very differently.

The more familiar word, affection, in modern use means "a feeling of liking and caring for someone or something," as in "They show their dog a lot of affection."

Affectation, on the other hand, refers to a form of behavior that's unnatural to the person engaging in it, and that is meant to impress other people. A phony accent someone uses to sound more sophisticated, for example, can be considered an affectation, as can pretending to know all about some obscure band in order to seem cool.

The words don't have much in common in their use, but their similarity in appearance is not coincidence. Both have to do with one of the trickiest words in the language: affect.

Affect is one of the most frequently looked-up words in the dictionary, primarily because of its regular confusion with effect. The short rationale that you often hear when it comes to distinguishing the two is that effect is usually a noun and affect is a verb. The breakdown isn't all that simple, however, and what makes things even more confusing is that there are two verb entries for affect.

One affect entry is for the sense meaning "to produce an effect upon (someone)" or "to act upon (a person, a person's mind or feelings, etc.) so as to effect a response." This is the sense that connects to affection, as in "We were affected by the young woman's heartfelt speech." Being affected by something in this way doesn't necessarily result in affection, but it can.

The other verb affect is defined as "to make a display of liking or using : cultivate" or "to put a pretense on : feign." It is used when talking about things like styles or mannerisms, as in "He affected a British accent and tweedy look after reading nothing but Sherlock Holmes stories for months on end."

The two verbs affect took different etymological paths from the same origin. The "put on a pretense" sense of affect derives via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Latin affectāre, meaning "to try to accomplish, strive after, pretend to have." Affectāre is a derivative of afficere, which means "to produce an effect on, exert an influence on"; the affect related to affection is from a variant of afficere.

Choose the Right Synonym for affectation

pose, air, airs, affectation, mannerism mean an adopted way of speaking or behaving.

pose implies an attitude deliberately assumed in order to impress others.

her shyness was just a pose

air may suggest natural acquirement through environment or way of life.

a traveler's sophisticated air

airs always implies artificiality and pretentiousness.

snobbish airs

affectation applies to a trick of speech or behavior that strikes the observer as insincere.

the posh accent is an affectation

mannerism applies to an acquired eccentricity that has become a habit.

gesturing with a cigarette was her most noticeable mannerism

Examples of affectation in a Sentence

His French accent is just an affectation. a woman of great affectation at social gatherings
Recent Examples on the Web Then the accent, and the weird affectation of his lisp. Zack Sharf, Variety, 21 June 2024 These days, hip-hop’s influence is clear in the speech and affectations of most young Americans, including white men. Spencer Kornhaber, The Atlantic, 11 June 2024 That was an affectation that came about because of MTV. Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture, 9 Feb. 2024 In the Philippines, Duterte built support for extrajudicial killings by relentlessly portraying concern for human rights as an affectation of a corrupt elite. Moisés Naím, Foreign Affairs, 22 Feb. 2022 Story-wise, Solo is a bit thin, but the vulnerability and sweetness of Pellerin’s performance keeps you in Simon’s corner — even his affectations, like sprinkling his conversations with random phrases in English, are endearing — despite his lack of armor getting a little exasperating. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 May 2024 Worse, the material’s maddeningly muted conflicts and crises (such as the adults’ skinny dipping adventure and Emma’s burgeoning annoyance with RJ’s fist-bumping, high-fiving affectations) can’t even manage to sustain themselves through the brisk run time. Courtney Howard, Variety, 9 May 2024 José José – Vive Long before the affectations of the ‘80s turned his records into slick synthetic affairs, Mexican crooner José José inhabited a larger-than-life realm populated by harpsichords and the analog sheen of his booming voice. Ernesto Lechner, SPIN, 16 Apr. 2024 As Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s darkly comic tale of cannibalistic opportunism entrenched itself in the theatrical canon, countless marquee performers have taken turns wielding Mrs. Lovett’s rolling pin and Cockney affectation. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 6 Apr. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'affectation.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

borrowed from Middle French & Latin; Middle French affectation, borrowed from Latin affectātiōn-, affectātiō "striving after, strained manner (in rhetoric)," from affectāre "to strive after, try to accomplish, pretend to have" + -tiōn-, -tiō, suffix of action nouns — more at affect entry 2

First Known Use

1548, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of affectation was in 1548

Dictionary Entries Near affectation

Cite this Entry

“Affectation.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affectation. Accessed 25 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

affectation

noun
af·​fec·​ta·​tion ˌaf-ˌek-ˈtā-shən How to pronounce affectation (audio)
: an unnatural form of behavior usually intended to impress others
the accent was an affectation

More from Merriam-Webster on affectation

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