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?Recommended for you: « Word of the Day: Stigma »
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48 Responses to “Found Any Eggcorns Lately?”
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 🙂
I heard one the other day from a degreed professional: ‘disconcerning’ for disconcerting.
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!
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.
Sharon Hurley Hall
Some great additions to the list, thanks, everyone.
Another one … old-timers disease in stead of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Cane Toad Trap
Good old “Waynespeak”. I know it well. Another one is advertize – ment, with emphasis on the tize.
Australian Web Directory
In Australia we have a dialect called “Wayne-Speak” that is full of eggcorn-like example. One that springs to mind is medium-strip (aka median strip). Another is to “excape”from jail.
Brisbane SEO Consultant
My favourite egg corn is to cast Nasturtians (cast aspersions). It’s in popular use in Australia.
a nominal egg (an arm and a leg)
“When people say “buck naked” when they really mean “butt naked.” There’s an eggcorn for ya.”
Are you kidding? AFAIK, that’s the other way around.
Or, “I have run, I have crawled, I have climbed these silly walls?”
“with eggcorns in songs”
Like, “excuse me, while I kiss this guy?”
When people say “buck naked” when they really mean “butt naked.” There’s an eggcorn for ya.
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. 🙂
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).
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.
Thanks for the latest additions, everyone. TootsNYC has made such a comprehensive response that there’s nothing left for me to add. 🙂
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.
doggie dog world ( dog eat dog world)
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?
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. 😀
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.
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.
@ 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.
for all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)
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?
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.
Mind bottling ( mind boggling)
I suppose Lord Nelson’s last words fall into this category.
Were they “Kismet, Hardy”?
“Kiss me, Hardy”?