A recent question on Meta discussed advantages and disadvantages of using more advanced words in ELL. As example, this answer was used:

'A Japanese' infers the Japanese person is a thing, and not a person. This is what deems it offensive.

'A Japanese Person' infers the Japanese person is just that - a person, and is therefore considered fine for use.

While the conclusion of the discussion is not related to this question, one comment disturbed me:

Unhappily, both words are misused there! – StoneyB 18 hours ago

Not to bundle two unrelated words and two different errors, let's focus on infers here. What is the misuse in the example? How should that word be used here correctly?

up vote 11 down vote accepted

To infer is to understand or realize a fact that is not immediately obvious. To imply is to "say something without saying it", so to speak; when you imply something, you are indicating it to be true without ever actually saying it outright. You infer what I imply; I infer what you imply.

So, to put it in context, the phrase "A Japanese" may imply something offensive, but you, as a listener or reader, have inferred this.

As far as I'm aware the error here is that 'infer' actually applies to how someone responds to something that is said/written, rather than the effect of the thing itself.

That is to say, someone infers something when they 'read between the lines' or spots something that isn't stated outright - they don't 'infer' when they say something, so the current usage is incorrect.

This said, the example could be rewritten correctly like this (even if it is a bit clunky):

'A Japanese' could lead someone to infer that the Japanese person is a thing, and not a person. This is what deems it offensive.

'A Japanese Person' would lead someone to infer that the Japanese person is just that - a person, and is therefore considered fine for use.

(NB: as the question doesn't refer to 'deems', I've left it uncorrected)

However, in this case, I think the author was actually looking for the word 'implies', which means that something is said (even if unintentionally), but not outright stated. To use the example again:

'A Japanese' implies that the Japanese person is a thing, and not a person. This is what deems it offensive.

'A Japanese Person' implies that the Japanese person is just that - a person, and is therefore considered fine for use.

To infer is to extract from a proposition or text or signal, by what we call inference, a sense which is not literally there, which is not explicit.

Thus, I inferred from the fact that the subjects of OP's sentences were texts, not persons, that the word OP intended was not infer but imply, which means to carry or bear a sense which is not literally there—which is not explicit but implicit.

The NOAD reports the following notes, about imply and refer:

There is a distinction in meaning between infer and imply. In the sentence "the speaker implied that the general had been a traitor," the word implied means that something in the speaker's words suggested that this man was a traitor (although nothing so explicit was actually stated). However, in "we inferred from his words that the general had been a traitor," the word inferred means that something in the speaker's words enabled the listeners to deduce that the man was a traitor. The two words infer and imply can describe the same event, but from different angles. Mistakes occur when infer is used to mean imply, as in "Are you inferring that I'm a liar?" (instead of "Are you implying that I'm a liar?").

  • What is NOAD?.. – user6951 Jun 9 '15 at 0:35

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