Submitted by mightyredpen  •  January 31, 2008

perpetrating or perpetuating?

The Boston Globe today ran an op-ed with the headline “Perpetrating the Autism Myth.” But on the homepage, they referred to the op-ed with a link that said “TV shows perpetuate the autism myth.” What is the difference between perpetrate and perpetuate as they are used here?

Comments Sort by:   Oldest first  •  Latest first  •  Rating

It's a typo or a good old-fashioned spelling mistake.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Without a dictionary, the initial reaction suggests:

perpetrate: to casue, initiate
perpetuate: to cause to continue

"TV shows perpetuate..." seems correct in context. The article's content leads one to consider that the author meant "perpetuate" in both cases, the lead-in on the front page as well as the title.

I worked at a newspaper once. I believe this is a case in which the proofreader was careless.

1 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Without a dictionary, the initial reaction suggests:

perpetrate: to casue, initiate
perpetuate: to cause to continue

"TV shows perpetuate..." seems correct in context. The article's content leads one to consider that the author meant "perpetuate" in both cases, the lead-in on the front page as well as the title.

I worked at a newspaper once. I believe this is a case in which the proofreader was careless.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

To partially respond to your question,
I agree that "perpetrate" is often used with crime; it has a negative connotation, whereas "perpetuate" is fairly neutral.
The two words shouldn't be used interchangeable, but your Google matches indicate that they get mixed up. I'd like to think that the Boston Globe reporter was using wordplay and revealing his or her point of view, rather than making a mistake.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Thanks, John & Subtle Knife.

I also had a feeling that it was a play on words, given the context of the article, as my initial instinct was that it should be perpetuate and not perpetrate.

But my confusion arose when, just for fun, I Googled the expressions "perpetrate a myth" and "perpetrate a hoax" and they are quite widely used. Is it people misunderstanding the definition of perpetrate -- "to commit" -- and applying it to myth as they would to crime, as in "perpetrate the crime"? Or just using the words interchangeably?

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

I believe this is a play on words.

Normally one would use "to perpetuate" to say someone is continuing a myth, but the deliberate choice to use "perpetrating" tells us something about the intention of the article.

The piece is a response to a TV show (a courtroom drama) and it is accusing the network of knowingly perpetuating the autism myth. Because in the authors' view this is an extremely dangerous thing to do (people tend to believe things even on fictional TV shows - and may end up not vaccinating their children) they write that the network is perpetrating a very dangerous act (note how to perpetrate is most often used in connection with crime). If the title hadn't told us already, the final paragraph does:

"The fueling of this negative trend through the careless use of a storyline based on bad science is inexcusable. ABC should rethink its decision, and viewers should understand that the episode is a scriptwriter's fantasy rather than health education."

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Seems to be a use of "perpetrate" when "perpetuate" is the usual word. This is not a common mistake... MW Dictionary of English Usage page 729.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment