Wrong Word Wednesday #58

Every week I demonstrate an example of poor English where a different word is used from the word intended. Usually, this creates a grammatically incorrect sentence and sometimes it sounds amusing, other times it sounds embarrassing. Unfortunately, the mistake is so pervasive that we all do it and such errors are usually made by those who should know better – journalists working for national or global media outlets such as newspapers and television.

Blond / Blonde

It comes – like many English words – from French and French, like German, has gendered words. Some words are masculine, some feminine and others neutral (though not in French I think). If you learn French or German at school (as most Brits did) you will have it permanently ingrained in you the differences between die, der and das, and between le and la.

This is where the difference is, purely in the gender of the person you describe. Blond typically applies to males (though it can be used for females when it is used as an adjective). Blonde however is only used to describe a woman or girl with fair coloured hair, it is a noun only whereas blond can be a noun and an adjective.

Grammar Girl has a few more details

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6 thoughts on “Wrong Word Wednesday #58

  1. Sadly Grammar girl is misinformed.
    Both are adjectives and nouns and are used that way inin British English (according to Oxford). Americans use blond by preference for the adjective because Webster hates the extra letter (in every case) but even he couldn’t kill the blonde for women and had to include it as a separate form.

    The derogatory form is always spelled blonde regardless of the gender of the person insulted and unlike chairmen and actors the term for a group of blondes is the feminine form.

    Also extracting the deep definitions Blond strictly includes fair complexion, where Blonde does not (I can’t help wondering if that is because Blondes can come out of a bottle, but Blonds generally don’t?).

    Also blonde versus blond applies to furniture too. Hard furnishings are blond, soft are blonde. Presumably because of perceived gender…

    Not as simple as they’d like to make it, a word pairing that varies with context, perceived gender, plurality and skin tone. No wonder people get confused.

  2. I’ve never encountered the distinction applied to furniture, nor the reference to complexion, but my own observation ( US, West Coast ) is that blonde is as common as an adjective as it is as a noun.

    Furthermore, among AE speakers the gender distinction is recognized and understood by a large number of those who write ‘blond’ across the board. A similar situation exists with fiancé and fiancée, where a disinclination to appear pretentious, and perhaps the fear of getting the accent wrong, lead many who know the distinction to write ‘fiancee’ and leave it at that. The accent mark ( é ) poses a problem for most US writers, too.

    1. C.A. St James

      What a coincidence: I just ran into an 1839 use of ‘blond’ as a description of complexion in a Wikipedia article about British Gypsies: ‘The French writer Felix Colson, writing in 1839 about his visits to slave holdings in Romania, remarked of some of the Gypsy slaves: “Their skins are hardly brown but blond and beautiful.” ‘

      cjmosley was right.

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