Fomenting ferment

I am heading into the city to have a couple of beers with my friend David. Reading the Sydney Morning Herald on the train I come across the sentence:

A debate continues to ferment in the market over whether Westfield group will launch a big equity raising fairly soon.

I think now, surely, the debate is fomenting not fermenting.

By the time I get to James Squires Brewery on the King Street Wharf (in Sydney) my mind has concerned itself more with fermentation than fomentation. There is a selection of real ales and beers to choose from, and I choose a nice golden-coloured ale to start.

His first question to me is about our responses to an online debate in which we both had been participating. So my mind shoots back to the question of whether a debate ferments or foments and I show him the article.

I say but surely it is foment.

I don’t know the word, says David, that’s your business.

Foment is about stirring up, inciting … I say.

Perhaps it depends on whether it is intransitive or transitive, says David.

There is a pregnant pause – this is upping the ante too much. I change the subject. Do you know the difference between lager and ale, I ask. I know the answer is lager is bottom-fermented and ale top-fermented. I read it years ago avoiding writing my masters thesis. I know it is one of those pieces of trivia that allows you to bluff your way into being seen as an expert.

When I get home I check out the foment versus ferment situation. As it turns out David is correct: you can ferment unrest and you can foment unrest. This is the transitive form which means having the subject (you), verb (ferment or foment), and the object (unrest). However, you can ferment but you can’t foment: this being the intransitive form without the object. You need something to stir up.

So going back to the original article, I have to admit that Jamie Freed, its editor is correct. I return to my beer relieved that it is fermented but worried about the future of foment.

(Note the image is not at King Street Wharf but apart from that the rest of the story is correct and the beer is ale).