Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: riff; rift (2).

riff; rift (2). Today: “rift.” “Rift” arose in Middle English in the sense “a fissure or divide; a split or crack” — the meaning it still carries. E.g.: “Word out of Washington is that Bondra wants to change teams because of a rift with coach Ron Wilson.” Nancy Marrapese-Burrell, “End-of-the-Year Sale,” Boston Globe, 1 Oct. 2000, at D2. Occasionally the term also refers to the rapids formed by rocks protruding from the bed of a stream. It formerly also meant “a burp” — a sense long obsolete. Although the OED records two early-17th-century uses of “riff” in the obsolete sense “rift, chink,” the modern use of the word in that sense appears to be nothing more than rank word-swapping resulting from sound association — e.g.: o “[Roone Arledge] was angered, sources say, that ABC Daytime had effectively gone behind his back to snare Walters. Walters told him that it was a fait accompli. Thus, ‘The View’ has now caused a minor riff [read ‘rift’] between the two.” Verne Gay, “The Daytime View,” Newsday (N.Y.), 11 Aug. 1997, at B3. o “The way he sees it, things aren’t bad at all. No riffs [read ‘rifts’] between him and crew chief Todd Parrott.” Skip Wood, “Yates Works to Vault Jarrett Back to the Top,” USA Today, 26 May 2000, at F9. Careful users of language preserve the age-old fissure between the words. Language-Change Index — “riff” misused for “rift”: Stage 1. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “The time you spend planning is just as important as the time you spend writing. Failure to think a subject through triggers all sorts of trouble, including bad tone and poor organization.” Jerome H. Perlmutter, A Practical Guide to Effective Writing 4 (1965).
Scroll to Top