July 06, 2004

Eggcorns from all over

Some eggcorns are just non-standard spellings:

(link) As a truly intelligent group, we always find it difficult to widdle down what we do to into a bullet list.

I often experience the same difficulty myself.

And who whittles anymore, anyhow? We used to whittle when I was a kid, but these days, if you gave your six-year-old a jackknife, Child Protective Services would haul you into court for reckless endangerment of a minor. And the old guys who used to sit on the feed store steps whittling are all inside watching TV now.

Come to think about it, maybe widdle down has something to do with cute widdle kitty? It's often hard to tell a simple misspelling from a leaky metaphor -- perhaps a PR person sprays adjectives around like Fl(ieger)a(bwehr)k(anone) [ = anti-aircraft artillery]?

(link) It's Sayonara to Bill Hughes, a flak for IBM's personal systems group.

Here's a case where one metaphor (defusing a bomb) has definitely been replaced by another (diffusing a noxious substance into a lot of water):

(link) Russia has launched a diplomatic push to diffuse the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

If you diffuse it, it becomes harmless, right? Or it pollutes a bigger area, or something...

Some words just work better as nouns. It's certainly easier to watch out for those quirky stigmatisms if they're not mere stems:

(link) Also, eyesight can change at any time. You may just have a stigmatism, and they can be real quirky.

And when you've got a noun, some actions are just more natural than others. For example, it makes a good deal more sense to tow an ideological line than to toe one:

(link) And some people find it very frustrating that I'm not towing an ideological line.

I mean, you've got an ideological line, you're naturally going to use it to pull something around, right? Why would you even think of toeing it, unless you're some kind of pervert? When do normal people ever toe anything, anyway? [...yes, I know about toeing the line at the start of a race or to dress a line in military drilling...]

Incidentally, do you know the story about the hillbilly who went from bar to bar around town dragging a logging chain behind him? Finally a bartender asked, "Hey, how come you're dragging that chain around behind you everywhere?" The answer: "Hell, did you ever try to push one of these things?"

It's so sensible, I'm not sure why it's even a joke.

Just like you can pay a fee to get something notarized, you can apparently also arrange to get bonified:

(link) Dental degree. School certified or notarized copy; if in a language other than English must be accompanied by a notarized translation from a bonified U.S. translator.

I'm not sure where you go to get a translator bonified, though. Probably Margaret Marks would know.

[Although I've found new examples via Google, all of these re-understandings of English come from chapter 11 of Ken Wilson's 1987 book "Van Winkle's Return". Ken, the author of The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, was my parents' friend when I was a child. I haven't seen him in many years, and was sad to learn by Google search that he died last year.]



Posted by Mark Liberman at July 6, 2004 09:39 AM

I've been wondering about 'wheelbarrel' (the usage I grew up with in northern Illinois) for 'wheelbarrow'. Would you consider that an eggcorn?

Posted by: rosina at July 6, 2004 10:31 AM

Sure. And Google finds 1,720 pages that share your (former) opinion.

Posted by: Mark Liberman at July 6, 2004 10:45 AM

There's a bust of Lester Pearson in the new Terminal 1 at Pearson airport, in Toronto. The plaque below credits him with "diffusing" the Suez Crisis. Apparently, his efforts distributed the tension in the Suez, resulting in the relatively harmless Panama Unease, Rideau Quarrel, and Erie Disturbance.

Posted by: Q. Pheevr at July 6, 2004 12:11 PM

While we're on the topic of creative and confused spellings, there's the very common "horde"/"hoard" thing. Here's an example from a poster to the newsgroup soc.motss, this very morning. (The poster is a highly educated, even erudite, reference librarian. This sort of thing can happen to anyone.):
(ObCluelessMotos: a hoard of several hundred drunken teenage Leeds United fans, marching down the main boulevard like so many SA troopers, singing at the top of their lungs "Y M C A")
[Clues to interpretation: "motos" is code for "heterosexual(s)", just as "motss" is code for "homosexual(s)". The Village People's spirited "YMCA" began life as a gay anthem, though it's now wandered pretty far.]

This one's especially easy to fall into, thanks to the meaning relationship; both words have a meaning component 'a lot of', but with "horde" applying to things (usually people) and "hoard" applying to stuff.

But, to be a terminological nitpicker, I thought eggcorns were *reanalytic* malapropisms, so that word confusions and creative spellings, though obviously related, didn't count.

By the way, Paul Brians has a website --
http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/index.html --
with a big list of common errors, including eggcorns, word confusions, and creative spellings. (As it happens, "hoard"/"horde" isn't on the list. MWDEU has it, though, and notes that the co\mbo spelling "hoardes" is also to be found.) There's a book, too, but I haven't seen it (yet).

Posted by: Arnold M. Zwicky at July 6, 2004 12:20 PM

What some researcher (or Mr Moore) needs to tell us is whether eggcorning is accidental and trivial, or whether what we're facing here is a subtle, global conspiracy to change the nature of reality.

Posted by: Trevor@Kaleboel at July 6, 2004 01:13 PM

my 'former' opinion?

Posted by: rosina at July 6, 2004 01:44 PM

Hi Rosina,

My apologies. "... that share your opinion, past present and future."

Posted by: Mark Liberman at July 6, 2004 02:09 PM

I have an eggcorn from my own writing: "mind as well" instead of "might as well"

Posted by: AG at July 6, 2004 03:10 PM

Coincidentally I noticed this article today, ostensibly about the dangers of relying on spell-checkers but which includes many spelling-related egg-corn candidates.

Posted by: dan at July 6, 2004 07:42 PM

Sorry, link is here http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/07/06/1089000154291.html

Posted by: dan at July 6, 2004 07:43 PM

When I was growing up and playing ball games, there was always a lot of yelling "out of balance!" instead of "out of bounds!". I guess that comes from the way children often twist and extend diphthongs so they sound like two different syllables (e.g. "It's not yours, it's mayan!", combined with the word "bounds" not really existing in any other context.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned at July 6, 2004 07:45 PM

To "bounds" and "balance" I can add another, similar kiddy homophony.

When my oldest son (now 33) was 2 and a half or so, he got a new, bigger tricycle. He was riding it around and around, making really fast turns, so I said "be careful, don't lose your balance!"

He stopped, looked at me, got off the trike. He looked around, found a soccer ball lying near the driveway, went over and picked it up. He lifted it over his head, and threw it down to the pavement, so that it bounced off down the driveway.

He faced me in triumph, hands on hips, and said "I not lose my bounce!"

Posted by: Mark Liberman at July 6, 2004 08:04 PM