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Jan 21 2013   10:22PM GMT

Do you reap what you sow or what you sew?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Microsoft has often been accused of ______ FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to keep customers leery of switching to competitor’s products.
a. sowing
b. sewing


Answer: a.

Explanation:
Sewing is stitching something together, like a tailor sews two pieces of fabric or a doctor sews a nasty cut. Sowing, on the other hand, is planting, as in putting seeds in the ground that you hope will grow. I guess as a culture, we’re increasingly distanced from the agricultural past but I was surprised by how frequently “sew” pops up online when it should be “sow.” In fact, it appears to be much more common in the phrase “you reap what you ____.”

Google poll:

You reap what you sew: 17,100,000

You reap what you sow:  3,200,000

Even allowing for the intentional uses of “sew” as a pun, that’s an awful lot of instances of the wrong use.

Paul Brians includes “reap what you sew” in his Common Errors in English Usage:

When you plant seeds you sow them. Galatians 6:7 says “A man reaps what he sows” (harvests what he plants, gets what he deserves). This agricultural metaphor gets mangled frequently into “you reap what you sew.” At best, you might rip what you sew, but you probably wouldn’t want to tell people about it.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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