July 01, 2004

A classical malapropism and a hypercorrect eggcorn

Andrew Sullivan notes a NYT reader review of Fahrenheit 9/11 saying that the "Bush Administration damns itself through its own actions, its own words, its own lies...all documented for prosperity." This is a surprisingly common malapropism. Google has 21 instances of "documented for prosperity", 8 instances of "preserving * * for prosperity", etc., most of which seem to be sincere mistakes:

( link) Moore's collection was aimed at preserving these ballads for prosperity.

A few minutes ago on the BBC Newshour, I (believe that I) heard a newscaster use the phrase "smoked filled room", while reporting on a demand for greater democracy in Hong Kong. Google has 614 instances, many of which are sincere mistakes rather than jokes about preserved meat and the like:

(link) The famous "smoked filled room" of politics was located behind this very bar!

I take it that this is a hypercorrection, patterned on the common loss of "-d" in complex nominals such as ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, ice(d) tea, wax(ed) paper, roast(ed) beef, shave(d) ice, cream(ed) corn, whip(ped) cream, and the like.

(In the interests of fairness to Mr. Lustig, whom I have a hard time taking seriously for shameful reasons I've mentioned earlier, I'll try to check the audio when it becomes available on line, and make sure that it was really him, and that he really said "smoked filled"...)


[Update: I originally wrote that I thought the BBC newscaster was Robin Lustig, but he has written a comment (below) to indicate that he was not responsible. To my surprise, it appears that the BBC has no accessible archives of its programs. Since I am not about to make a trip to London to arrange a "listening appointment" at the British Library, I'll never know who it was. Sorry.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 1, 2004 09:45 AM

If I saw "smoked filled rooms" in writing I'd assume it was a typo, in which "smoke" had picked up the "-ed" from "filled".

Posted by: Keith Ivey at July 1, 2004 10:27 AM

just sighted
a "suicide pack"
264 on Google, though some seem to be puns and one lists an 'anti-suicide pack' that is issued by the Scottish Further Education Unit in order to reduce suicides by children

Posted by: joe tomei at July 1, 2004 10:52 AM

"...the common loss of '-d' in complex nominals such as ice(d) cream, skim(med) milk, ice(d) tea, wax(ed) paper, roast(ed) beef, shave(d) ice, cream(ed) corn, whip(ped) cream, and the like."

Did *all* these originally use the participle? I thought the "ice" of ice cream, "skim" of skim milk and "roast" of roast beef were simply nouns used as adjectives. "Iced cream", "skimmed milk" and "roasted beef" must be much older than I am (1957 vintage) because I don't think I've ever heard them, nor even read them. I somehow see them as structured differently from the other examples you cite (can(ned) goods is another common one).

Posted by: Margaret S. at July 1, 2004 11:05 AM

I haven't checked all these myself -- I did see them in a published list of such changes, from which I once took the list for use in a course. Checking now, I see that the OED suggests that "roast" in "roast beef" is an obsolete past participle. But for "ice cream" the OED has

"A compound of flavoured and sweetened cream or custard, congealed by being stirred or revolved in a vessel surrounded by a freezing mixture. (Earlier term, iced cream.)"

In that case, the change apparently took place in the 18th century.

For "skim milk", the OED thinks that the etymology is from skim v. + milk n.

Posted by: Mark Liberman at July 1, 2004 11:16 AM

Just for the record, I have never heard 'shave ice' or 'cream corn'. It's always been 'shaved ice' and 'creamed corn' for me. However, although I grew up calling it 'whipped cream' (and still do), I have heard 'whip cream'. I don't say it myself, though.

One thing to note is that 'shaved ice' comes out sounding like 'shave dice' (or, I suppose 'shaved dice' if you're in Vegas).

Posted by: Mark Musante at July 1, 2004 11:19 AM

'Shave ice' is what it is called in Hawaii. Click here for an example. Some people think it is just the same as a snow cone, but they are quite different, with shave ice coming from Japanese Kakigouri

Posted by: joe tomei at July 1, 2004 11:31 AM

Hmm, "Torthaí 1 - 10 as timpeall 75 le haghaidh malpropism. (0.19 soicind)." I suppose the "a" wasn't typed since it's unstressed in speech? Or is there a subtle point being made that I've missed? :-)

Posted by: Aidan Kehoe at July 1, 2004 11:54 AM

The second "a" in "mal(a)propism" (in the title of this post, before I corrected it) was left out mainly because I'm a fast but errorful typist, and a lousy proofreader.

Vowel stress might have something to do with it, I don't know; but more likely the effect was on proofreading rather than typing.

Posted by: Mark Liberman at July 1, 2004 12:20 PM

Speaking of malapropisms, did anyone else catch the late-night PBS coverage of the laying to rest of Mr. Reagan, in which the ceremony was described as his "internment"? [PBS seemed remarkably unconcerned when I pointed it out to them.]

Posted by: Eric at July 1, 2004 12:52 PM

My comment is gone.

Posted by: Tony Marmo at July 1, 2004 02:04 PM

All but one of the supermarkets I've visited have aisles labelled "can fruit." Pedant that I am, I keep wanting either to add an "-ned" to the first word or a question mark to the whole phrase.

Posted by: Josh Lukin at July 4, 2004 01:36 AM

Note to Eric: I, too, was startled to hear the use of the word "internment" on PBS with respect to Reagan's burial. Oh, well, we all suffer from the occasional mental lapsus.

Posted by: Suzanne Paterson at July 7, 2004 04:06 PM

re yr entry for 1 July and "smoked-filled" room -- not guilty! I wasn't the host of Newshour that day ...

Posted by: Robin Lustig at July 14, 2004 05:15 PM