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

Did you know?

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 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 While Pepe jumps around a lot more and spends too much time on artsy affectation, there’s a soulfulness to this account that sneaks up on you, amplified by De los Santos Arias’ unsettling electronic score. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 20 Feb. 2024 Stapleton’s vocals were tender one moment, gritty and blues-drenched the next, rising from a deep growl to a falsetto swoop without a hint of affectation. George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Mar. 2024 To a man of God, this was a dangerous foreign affectation and betrayal of nature. Ligaya Mishan Kyoko Hamada, New York Times, 18 Feb. 2024 Reviewing a collection of Tom Wolfe’s journalism, Hitchens deplored Wolfe’s affectations and his plummy conservative politics. Dwight Garner, New York Times, 1 Jan. 2024 Even Clarke, whose role could be non-stop blue-collar schtick even in that actor’s capable hands, comes across as relatively natural and light on Boston affectations. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 22 Dec. 2023 In hopes of winning an illustrious scholarship, Coriolanus takes on an unexpected assignment: as mentor for Hunger Games participant Lucy Gray Baird (Rachel Zegler), a nomadic musician boasting an aw-shucks affectation and affinity for serpents. Thomas Floyd, Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2023 There are always modern affectations that happen that areannoying, like the Billie Eilish hushed singing or Lorde’s way of singing—that baby ASMR. Matt Thompson, SPIN, 19 Oct. 2023

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 19 Apr. 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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