Ferment vs. Foment

by Heather

Lexical Vexations

ferment v. to create carbon dioxide and alcohol from carbohydrate-rich substances via an enzymatic process.

foment v. to promote or encourage; to incite.

Words in the Wild: Zach, after trying to climb up on the porch roof, set to fomenting discord between his two older sisters before falling asleep at the dinner table. Wondering what was up with him, his dad checked the fridge to see if the grape juice had fermented or something.

This post was inspired by some characters trying to ferment a rebellion in one of the books I was working on today. I suppose they might have been plying the masses with ale in the spirit of rabble-rousing, but I helped them in their efforts by changing the word to foment.

And, yes, I know Webster’s says you can use ferment to mean foment, but I’m afraid I’m just not willing to budge on this one. Beg to differ? Let me know in the comments and we can foment a debate.

Still vexed? You can find a complete list of the Word Blog’s lexical vexations here.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather January 21, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Hi Rob,

You’re right about the language evolving as popular use shapes it, of course. I, too, prefer a descriptivist approach to language to a prescriptivist one as you’ll see from other posts on this blog.

But luckily, I’m not trying to change the language, just deciding how I’ll use it myself. I still have my personal preferences in language use – as I suspect we all do – and in my own writing and editing, I’m going to continue to make the distinction between these two usages.

Fermenting just brings to my mind such delightfully frothy, lager-y images that it feel at odds with the fomenting of discord and the like.

Thanks for reading,

Rob January 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm

See here: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/ferment-and-foment/

I think you’ll have to budge. It’s part of the language and you’re not going to change that.

maryam December 11, 2011 at 6:31 am

Thank you, it really helped

Qing August 22, 2011 at 4:23 am

Thanks a lot for the elaboration.
I couldn’t differentiate them while I was working on my GRE.

Anonymous August 7, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Yes although you might seek to foment a debate it would not do to have such ferment affect others

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