It’s easy to trip up when speaking or writing, but what do you call the results when you do? A few weeks ago, I wrote about eggcorns. These are errors in which people guess wrongly the meaning, origin and spelling of certain expressions. An example would be writing or saying ‘flaw in the ointment’ instead of ‘fly in the ointment’.
Another error, made famous by Sheridan’s Mrs Malaprop, is the malapropism. If you mean to say one thing, but use a similar sounding word that means something completely different, then that’s what you’ve done. Example: A rolling stone gathers no moths. (moss)
Similar to an eggcorn, but usually taking place with songs and poems, is the mondegreen. In the song The Bonny Earl of Murray, the line ‘(hae laid) him on the green’ was misconstrued as ‘Lady Mondegreen’. Other examples of mondegreens, collected by journalist Jon Carroll, include:
- Climb Every Woman (I’m Every Woman, by Chaka Khan)
- I Was Barney Rubble (I Was Born A Rebel, by Tom Petty)
- Falling on my head like a newt in motion (falling on my head like a new emotion, from Here Comes The Rain Again, Eurythmics)
Many more mondegreens are available here (Update: SFGate article no longer online).
Finally, spoonerisms result from transposing the initial sounds of words. Named after clergyman William Archibald Spooner, the resulting words usually provoke gales of laughter. Examples from Spooner himself include:
- It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride. (customary to kiss the bride)
- You have tasted two worms (wasted two terms)
- Our Lord is a shoving leopard (loving shepherd)
Many more Spoonerisms are available on Fun with Words.