I could hardly believe my ears this morning when I heard a highly educated author being interviewed on NPR about a new book. A graduate of two prestigious Eastern universities, the author talked about “hobbling together” a political alliance.
She meant “cobbling together.”
Naturally, I hopped on the Web to see if anyone else was misusing this common expression. The following examples indicate that quite a few speakers are:
I could barely hobble together some clips from wagnaria some audio from hockey highlights and some sound effects in Imovie
That is the big flaw with my car – a VW. No cupholders except for one for the back seat. I’ve had to hobble together aftermarket bits to hold my coffee.
I finally had the time to hobble together an open source version of the headless Raspberry Pi config interface I’ve been working on.
It’s not just the tweeters and the bloggers:
Eagan’s head coach Mike Taylor had to hobble together a line-up after losing both first line wings to injury the night before.
Global markets – USA: Bruised computer giants hobble together –(headline over a story about a Compaq-HP merger)
I even found the altered expression in printed books. Here’s one example:
The Babylonian cosmos, or at least the picture of it that scholars have managed to hobble together over the last two centuries, presents us with a scene by now quite familiar to the reader
Used figuratively, the expression “to cobble together” means “To put together or join roughly or clumsily, usually from bits and pieces of whatever materials are available.
The verb cobble, of unknown origin, already had the meaning of “to mend clumsily” or “to patch up” in the 15th century. In the 16th century it was used to describe the mending of shoes; a cobbler was a mender of shoes. Shakespeare plays with the word cobble in Act One, scene one of Julius Caesar (1599); a cheeky commoner offers to “cobble” a tribune.
Here are some examples of the expression being used correctly:
Freelancers cobble together part-time jobs to make ‘portfolio careers’
Adjunct Professors Try to Cobble Together a Full Workload
BJP hopes to cobble together alliance in TN
Lower Makefield officials cobble together $3.5M to pay judgment in eminent domain case involving golf course land
The expression “to hobble” means to fasten an animal’s feet together to prevent it from straying. Figuratively, it means to impede someone or something. For example, a lack of money could hobble a company’s efforts to bring out a new product.
Here are some examples from the web in which hobble is used correctly:
U.S. says global effort has hobbled a cybercrime ring
Lewisville zoning extension effort hobbled in N.C. House
Markets hobbled by low volatility
Teaching Your Horse to Stand Hobbled
If something is being put together from bits and pieces, it’s being cobbled together.
If something is being crippled, it’s being hobbled.