Found Any Eggcorns Lately?
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.’
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 Responses to “Found Any Eggcorns Lately?”
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”.
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
Sharon Hurley Hall
That’s a good one, Helen.
Also “The rumours spread like wildflowers” (Quite a reasonable alternative, I’d say!)
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”.
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.
“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.
Ahem…I should have paid attention. Apparently my previous entry belongs in the “malapropisms” section. 🙂
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!
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.
scrambled eggcorn on the cob
Ooh I love eggcorns, thanks!
Never cared much for those mondy greens (smirk)
How much more do do yu Babalonians need to understand nature
“chain of thought” —-> train of thought
My best friend said “chain of thought” to me in 8th grade, and I nearly died laughing.
It has just occurred to me that the humorous examples we’re sharing are not eggcorns at all, but mondegreens, n’est-ce pas?
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.
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 . . .
Cup of chino?
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…