April 24, 2005

Rampant malaprops, companionable

Not all substitutions of one word for another are eggcorns: some are typos, some are misspellings, some are mishearings, and some are plain old malapropisms, not involving any sort of reinterpretation or reanalysis. Of the malaprops, a few have become rampant, usually because the words in question are similar both semantically and phonologically: militate/mitigate, flout/flaunt, and flounder/founder are familiar examples (and the first two are discussed in the eggcorn database).

New to me, though probably not to more experienced collectors of these things, is eccentric/eclectic, as in the following:

Some of the most fascinating passages of the book are anecdotes in the first chapter about Bouissac's adventures with lions and bears. To dream of running off to join a circus is clichéd; to actually do so is eclectic. (Ken Schellenberg, review of The Pleasures of Time: Two Men, A Life by Stephen Harold Riggins, Lambda Book Report, Jan.-March 2005, p. 25)

I really can't see how running off to join a circus is an eclectic action, in the sense that it combines diverse elements of something or other. But eclecticism is both odd and conspicuous, so you can see how thinking about eccentricity might lead you to eclecticism. Especially when the words eccentric and eclectic are so similar phonologically (and morphologically). If you reach for a fancy word that has the meaning you want, eclectic is likely to be close to hand.

Apparently, lots of people have picked up eclectic on the way to eccentric, so many that some others have come to think that eclectic means something like 'notable and unusual, eccentric', or at least that the two words are related. And lots of other people have connected the two words in their minds and use the two together; they've become companions (something that hasn't happened with the other rampant malaprops above). A Google web search on "eclectic" and "eccentric" in proximity to one another turns up ca. 647,020 hits, including items like these:

Like the big, broad, bountiful country that it is representing in Athens, the 2004 US Olympic team is eclectic, eccentric, brash, rambunctious and very ... (www.freenewmexican.com/artsfeatures/3122.html)
What I mean by eclectic and eccentric actor, is that Johhny Depp not only chooses the deeper meaning roles, or oddly twisted characters, he tries to embellish them with his idea of the characters personality (which he forms from his experiences or people!) (elon.powerfulintentions.com/forum/topic/251)
Block has subsequently written five books about Weetzie and her eclectic, eccentric friends (all five books are now bound into one volume, ... (www.teenreads.com/authors/au-block-francesca.asp)
But call them eclectic, eccentric or quirky, this band's elusive quality has taken them far in the past two decades: across the country and around the ... (redclayramblers.tripod.com/1992carolina_alumni.htm)
Eclectic/Eccentric:. Washington Square Hotel - $110 to $225 103 Waverly Pl Phone: (212) 777-9515 Fax: (212) 979-8373 The North Square Restaurant offers ... (www.sachsnet.com/contact/hotels.html)
HITCHCOCK ON DVD ECCENTRIC, ECLECTIC AND ESSENTIAL. With an abundance of documentaries supporting the films themselves, and a 4-page booklet in each ... (www.urbancinefile.com.au/ home/view.asp?a=7022&s=Features )
An Eclectic(Eccentric?) List by cammykitty, ex poet, aspiring YA writer ... a book from Nancy Willard, one of the most eclectic/eccentric writers alive. (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ tg/listmania/list-browse/-/14FMBF4LGY8R3)

I'm not claiming that everybody who uses eclectic and eccentric together sees them as near-synonyms, or at least as overlapping in meaning. Some of the cites above are clearly intended to convey 'both diverse and unconventional' (though sometimes with an extension to new sorts of referents for eclectic, as with that eclectic team and those eclectic friends). With others, I'm inclined to think that the writer was hedging bets by using both words, just to be sure that one of them would convey something in the vicinity of the intended meaning.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at April 24, 2005 01:16 PM