Found Any Eggcorns Lately?

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A friend recently pointed me to a linguistic term that I hadn’t seen before: eggcorn (or egg corn). It seems that in certain dialects eggcorn is a homonym for acorn, as Mark Liberman reported on the Language Log in September 2003. It turns out that there are hundreds of these eggcorns in common use. But what exactly is it, in linguistic terms? 

What Is An Eggcorn?

It may be simpler to define it by what it’s not. Here’s Mark Liberman’s take on it:

It’s not a folk etymology, because this is the usage of one person rather than an entire speech community.

It’s not a malapropism, because "egg corn" and "acorn" are really homonyms (at least in casual pronunciation), while pairs like "allegory" for "alligator," "oracular" for "vernacular" and "fortuitous" for "fortunate" are merely similar in sound

It’s not a mondegreen because the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance.

Nor is an eggcorn simply a mistake. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum says that many people use their intelligence to guess at the meaning, origin and spelling of some expressions. It’s just that they guess wrong. He adds: ‘They are imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known.’

Eggcorn Examples

Since Mark Liberman coined the term, linguists and language lovers have gone eggcorn hunting. The results of their searches have been gathered in the Eggcorn Database, which is maintained by Chris Waigl. I had a great time browsing the database, which now contains almost 600 entries.

Some examples of eggcorns include:

  • a tough road to hoe (a tough row to hoe)
  • antidotal evidence (anecdotal evidence)
  • bonified (bona fide)
  • bread and breakfast (bed and breakfast)
  • damp squid (damp squib)
  • duck tape (duct tape, now confused by the existence of a brand of duct tape known as Duck Tape)
  • fast majority (vast majority)
  • flaw in the ointment (fly in the ointment)
  • hone in (home in)
  • internally grateful (eternally grateful)
  • mute point (moot point)
  • old timers disease (Alzheimers Disease)
  • on the spurt of the moment (on the spur of the moment)
  • outer body experience (out of body experience)
  • put the cat before the horse (put the cart before the horse)
  • throws of passion (throes of passion)
  • windshield factor (wind chill factor)


Mark Liberman says eggcorns are ‘a symptom of human intelligence and creativity’ . And they’re certainly fun to read. Have you found any good eggcorns lately?

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48 thoughts on “Found Any Eggcorns Lately?”

  1. I suppose Lord Nelson’s last words fall into this category.

    Were they “Kismet, Hardy”?
    “Kiss me, Hardy”?

  2. The oldest I know of is “skid row” for Skid Road, the road down which logs were skidded to the mill and which (in its original version in Seattle) was also where the ramshackle cabins of lumberjacks were located.

  3. Incidentally, the Dutch word for “acorn” is “eikel”, and “ei” means “egg” as well. (“kel”, as far as I’m aware, has no meaning.) Coincidence?

  4. @ Maeve: yes, it probably does

    @ Jean, Dick, Rob: thanks for the additions to the list

    @ Thomas: Maybe not, and thanks for the info. It’s always interesting to hear how concepts are voiced in other languages.

  5. I think your example eggcorn “hone in (home in)” should be reversed.

    “Hone” means to focus your attention on something, as in, honing in on a solution. “Home in” has become a more popular phrase, but I believe it is the eggcorn.


  6. Ah, this brings back memories of my Geometry class… we were using duct tape in class, and my teacher had written it down on our worksheet as “duck tape.” The entire class protested, and he insisted that it was spelled “duck tape” and even showed us the roll of tape he was using (which was, unfortunately, of the brand “Duck Tape”). Luckily, someone was wearing a shirt that read “Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver,” and we convinced him it actually was “duct tape.”

    “Throws of passion” gets me every single time. ๐Ÿ˜€

  7. My mother (God rest her soul) must have invented eggcorns. She had this endearing way of mispronouncing things. She is famous for her German Shepherd pie, capacinni, Kawholee. Thanks for the memories.

  8. Question
    Can “throws of passion” really be classified as a mondegreen? Wouldn’t it be simply a spelling error, since “throes of passion” is pronounced the same?

  9. Kycoo, the funny thing about “duct tape” is, it was invented as “duck tape,” a waterproofing substance. It doesn’t actually work well on modern heating ducts.

    Paul, you’ve provided one of the proofs that eggcorn hunters need: documentation of the thought processes that create the eggcorns.

    “hone” means to sharpen or smooth; there is no sharpening or smoothing*in* on something. And the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (M-W has the nation’s largest collection of original citations, and is therefore the most historically accurate) gives “hone in on” as a VARIATION of “home in on.”

    “Hone in on” is indeed the eggcorns.

    Maeve, the hardest part of eggcorn hunting is determining whether there is an actual *image switch* in the *mind* of the eggcorn user. Paul clearly laid his alternate reasoning and imagery out for us.

    “Throws of passion” would be an eggcorn in those instances in which someone mentally said, “well, they’re throwing themselves about, sort of a variation of a toddler throwing himself about in a tantrum; must be ‘throws.'”

    Maybe it wouldn’t qualify for eggcornicity if it’s regarded as an alternative spelling of the same meaning. “Throe” is “pang or spasm” or “struggle”–the origin is the same as “throw,” but the current meaning of “throw” is perhaps more “tossing” as opposed to “wriggling around.”

    It’s the difference in the meaning that determines eggcornicity.
    The identicalness of the pronounciation doesn’t really affect it.

  10. Thanks for the latest additions, everyone. TootsNYC has made such a comprehensive response that there’s nothing left for me to add. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Duck tape was, and in many cases still is, made from cotton duck material, thus Duck Tape.

    Duct tape is a misnomer for this product as it is totally unsuitable for use on heating ducts. Hot air melts the adhesive and causes the tape to release. Aluminum foil tape with a special high temperature adhesive is best for ducts.

  12. I used to think “root of all evil” was “route of all evil”, as if it were the “road to hell”. Switching it in my mind brings out new ways of looking at things. Now corruption sprouts from the ground and spreads wherever the money is planted (poor Pinocchio).

  13. Thanks for the explanation, Mike.

    @Jack: that’s a good one; I’ve had a similar experience with eggcorns in songs, though of course I can’t think of any now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. When people say “buck naked” when they really mean “butt naked.” There’s an eggcorn for ya.

  15. “When people say โ€œbuck nakedโ€ when they really mean โ€œbutt naked.โ€ Thereโ€™s an eggcorn for ya.”

    Are you kidding? AFAIK, that’s the other way around.

  16. Further on “buck naked”: I believe this derives from the presentation of male slaves in the nude for evaluation in American slave markets. “Butt naked” has fewer unpleasant connotations, but is the eggcorn.

  17. I heard another eggcorn at lunch today. My friend was retelling a story in which non-native English speakers were talking about the stage of life their daughter was in, referring to adolescence as “adult lessons.” Tee hee!

  18. My good friend keeps saying “high insight” when she means “hindsight” – I’m never sure if I should correct her or not, it’s almost appropriate, really ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. My kids used to call the birds at the beach ‘sea girls’ whereas most everybody in town (including me) calls them ‘sea gulls’. They are, in fact, properly named ‘silver gulls’: but the sods try to eat your lunch whatever you call them…

  20. I had never heard of an eggcorn before today–delightful word!

    @Jack McFie (post #15): The biblical quotation is “. . . the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It isn’t money the apostle Paul warns against, but the love thereof. Sadly, however, money still remains all too often the route of evil . . .

  21. Two more: Remember Beverly Cleary’s Ramona? She thought a “dawnzer lee light” was a lamp.

    And the famous “bathroom on the right” from CCR’s Bad Moon on the Rise.

  22. It has just occurred to me that the humorous examples we’re sharing are not eggcorns at all, but mondegreens, n’est-ce pas?

  23. “chain of thought” —-> train of thought

    My best friend said “chain of thought” to me in 8th grade, and I nearly died laughing.

  24. Jack, “route of all evil” actually works. Evil takes the path of least resistance, after all.
    I live in the Midwest, and people out here use “well” in place of “while” (for example “Well the chicken is roasting, start making the sauce.”).
    Would that be an egg-corn, or simply a malapropism? Whatever the classification, it is very annoying.

  25. I honestly don’t know if these fit into the eggcorn category, but a lady my mother works with is full of her own little twists on everyday expressions:

    A roundball figure (a ballpark figure)
    Flea bargain (plea bargain)
    grapsing at stars (grasping at straws)
    and my favorite… He drank himself to Boliva! (into oblivion)

    And even my wordsmith of a mother can mess up from time to time with a geniune slip of the tongue…hope springs a turtle (hope springs eternal).

    I love them all!

  26. Ahem…I should have paid attention. Apparently my previous entry belongs in the “malapropisms” section. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. “pickind their cases is the purgative of the Supreme Court” is my favoriite. Also, tow the line, a hard road to tow. a hair-brained idea, and those wolves in cheap clothing. Don’t take it for granite. I have to wear a tuck sedo to the Nota Republic’s. Anchors Away! is another you’ll see, evenin print at times.

  28. I have a French colleague who loves an eggcorn every now and again.

    The best is when he sleazily said about a female colleague “she is a very dark sheep that one” and winked.

  29. I’ve got two examples:
    “If you think that, you’ve got another thing coming” Over the years I have tried to convince classfuls of children that the word is “think” not “thing”, meaning if you think that you must think again. All to no avail, the general consensus being that if their parents say it like that it must be right.
    The second example is a friend who persisted in describing certain people as “foamy”, which made as much, if not more, sense to her than “phoney”.

  30. This Burger King employee put his feet in lettuce, and the photo was anonymously posted on the web.

    4chan users teamed up to pin down his identity. Now his feathers are rumbled

  31. I once listened to a lecture in an education class given by an esteemed member of my college’s eduction faculty. He went on for several minutes telling us about common “fox paws” people make in their speech, before I realized he was probably talking about “faux pas”.

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