February 09, 2005

Another peace <-> piece shift

Last August, Arnold Zwicky listed "an assortment of eggcorns from [his] files", including:

"say one's piece > say one's peace, peace of mind > piece of mind. The first was noted by me on ADS-L, 5/21/03, from Mike Thomas (and others) on soc.motss, who queried my spelling of "I said my piece". Garner's A Dictionary of Modern American Usage reports this widespread reanalysis, as well as the less common "piece of mind"; MWDEU notes various "confusions" of peace and piece, even going so far as to employ the verb "botch" in this connection. But say one's peace is now so common among younger speakers (who are baffled by the claim that the original noun was piece) that it begins to rival have another thing (for original think) coming as a newly dominant variant."

Yesterday, Fernando Pereira wrote in with another example of the lexical trade between peace and piece: "make [one's] piece with":

Read an instance today, only 11 ghits [for "made their piece with"] vs 6,940 for "made their peace with". "made his piece with": 23 ghits vs 11,300 for "made his piece with". "made her piece with": 3 ghits vs 2,030 vs "made her peace with".

Putting it all together (perhaps unreliable given Google's boolean oddities?) as {"made my|your|his|her|our|their piece with"} has 274 ghits, while {"make|makes|making my|your|his|her|our|their piece with"} has 164. That's a total of 438, versus 70,200 for {"made|make|makes|making my|your|his|her|our|their peace with"}, so that the total is only 0.6% eggcorn. This one is there in the meme pool, but it's a long way from taking over. In comparison, {"say|says|said|saying my|your|his|her|our|their piece"} 88,200 whG, while {"say|says|said|saying my|your|his|her|our|their peace"} gets 18,100, or 17% of the total. So as Arnold noted, "say one's peace" has a significant chunk of mindshare and may be on its way to domination.

There's a more self-conscious example of this lexical trade in the name of the local fast-food outlet Peace a Pizza ("sorry, we're open"). Piece out.

[Update: Abnu at Wordlab points out another example: "A Separate Piece" by John Knowles. {"a separate piece" knowles} has 660 hits, as opposed to 24,000 for the same query with "peace". I was pleased to see that the second-ranked hit is an invitation to academic dishonesty from 123helpme.com, whose first sentence is a marvelous combination of pretentiousness and incompetence:

"People are often vain of their most criminal passions; but envy is one passion so mean and low that nobody will admit it" Francois de la Rochefoucauld(1613-1680), a French philosopher, once stated and that statement summarizes the undertone of A Separate Piece by John Knowles.


[Update #2: Jonathan Mayhew writes:

I'm wondering whether the idiom

"to hold one's peace"

leads people to assume that the opposite idiom should be

"to speak one's peace"

instead of the more correct "to speak one's piece"

Do people write: "I'm going to give him a peace of my mind" ? Most of the hits that show up for that are making a deliberate pun, like "just desserts" as a name of a pastry shop.

You would probably find an eggcorn for "holding one's piece" as well, if the confusion were working the other way around. Try to peace that one together.



Posted by Mark Liberman at February 9, 2005 07:21 AM