Magnate or magnet: Use the right word

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Fridge magnets – the scientific kind

This week South Africans bade farewell to our stalwart entrepreneur Richard Maponya. Mayponya, who died at the age of 99, brought to the country, the first shopping mall in a township. Until that day, the two were a contradiction in terms.

The newsreader said that we had lost a business magnate and I smiled in sympathy as she pronounced the word incorrectly. She said ‘magnet’ but magnate has a long sound on the ‘a’ as the spelling denotes. In lazy English, many people just say ‘magnet’, but we expect better from our newsreaders.

A respected mentor

The irony of the mispronunciation is that Maponya was both a magnate and a magnet. He was a magnet for business in that everything he touched turned to gold. And his magnetic personality drew people into his realm as many of those he mentored have testified.

This is just one of those areas where English is tricky and if you don’t know better, you won’t pull your lip up to your nose, straining to say magnate, you’ll just go with the lazy masses and say magnet. In the case of Richard, both apply.

You might like to have on hand some synonyms for magnate such as lord, baron, tycoon, captain of industry and industrialist.

Borrowing from science

A magnet as defined by Google dictionary is “a piece of iron or other material which has its component atoms so ordered that the material exhibits properties of magnetism, such as attracting other iron-containing objects or aligning itself in an external magnetic field.”

Needless to say, the English language has stolen from science and adapted the definition to apply to a human quality and use it to add colourful descriptions to our speech or writing.
But please, don’t say magnet when you mean magnate and don’t say magnate when you mean magnet.

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