May 14, 2005

More things that aren't eggcorns

I've been entering occasional items on the eggcorn database with the labels "questionable" or "not an eggcorn", but I can't of course enter all the dubious examples that are suggested to me, or otherwise the database would become an inventory of non-eggcorns rather than eggcorns.  I try to restrict these entries to items that are very frequently suggested as eggcorns, but seem to be better analyzed as classical malapropisms that are not reanalytic, or as blends, simple (though common) misspellings, phonological variants spelled "by ear", and the like.  My collection includes some examples that do (or might) involve reanalysis, but where the reanalysis is motivated not by semantic considerations but by morphological (or morphophonological) considerations, involving some kind of analogy to other words.  The famous nucular (discussed here on many occasions and in many contexts) illustrates the type: this version of the word looks like it has the analysis nuc-ul-ar, similar to molecular and other words.

Here I report on two more examples of this type: doctorial (for doctoral) and the rather more interesting overature (for overture).  And I consider pronunciations like chicking (for chicken) and childring (for children), which look like simple hypercorrections, but might also involve reanalysis favoring the suffix -ing.

Favorites from my recent "not eggcorn" collections:

Blend: a wholescale ban...  [AMZ in class, 4/15/05: wholesale + full-scale]

Simple misspellings (recorded in the database): without undo pressure and the reverse, to undue the buttons on his jeans

Phonological variant spelled "by ear": If you have any questions please fill free to ask away. [Reported by Fritz Juengling on ADS-L, 5/11/05, eliciting much discussion of the laxing of /i/ in various contexts (especially before /l/ and before /g/) in various American varieties of English.]

But on to morpho(phono)logical reanalyses. 

First case, the very common doctorial (ca. 35,100 raw Google web hits), as in the following:

Post Doctorial & Research Scientist Lab Technicians | Graduate Students | Undergraduate Researchers |... (

(This one has even made the OED.  OED2 has the variant doctorial from 1729 through 1843, with cites all in university contexts.  Plus an occurrence of doctorially from Trollope (1858) that seems to refer to physicians.  By the way, OED Online, draft of December 2003, has nucular 'nuclear' with cites beginning in 1943. )

English has alternative suffixations -al and -i-al.  The first places stress either on the penult of the stem (orIGin-al, with source ORigin; VIRgin-al and proFESSion-al already have the stress on this syllable in the source), or on the final syllable (diaLECTal, with source DIalect).  For the source word DOCtor, the standard derivative in -al has the first pattern, DOCtoral, though a non-standard stressing docTORal also occurs (parallel to standard maYORal).  Suffixing in -i-al requires final stress on the stem: profesSORial, with source proFESSor; meMORial, with source MEMory.

So we have doctor, which looks like it has a morphological component -or and is semantically parallel to professor, ambassador, senator, and many others, almost all of which take -i-al rather than -al.  (I think that pastoral is the only reasonably common adjective of this class besides mayor that takes -al, and its connection to pastor is not terribly clear.)  So doctor shifts to be like the rest of the herd.  (The stressing docTORal might have had a hand.)

Second case, the much less common (though not fabulously rare) overature -- ca. 5,600 raw Google web hits (a fair number for commercial products with the name Overature) -- as in the following:

William Tell Overature Yankee Doodle. Military Themes Airforce Marine Navy Semper Fidelis Taps... (

Nouns in -ture fall into two classes: a large class in which the -ture is preceded by an unstressed syllable, usually spelled with an a (caricature, miniature, signature, temperature, literature, curvature), though sometimes with i (expenditure, furniture); and a smaller class in which the -ture is preceded by a stressed syllable ending in a consonant (dePARture, adVENture, manuFACture).  Now the word overture has -ture preceded by a syllable that ends in a consonant but is not stressed.  The way to preserve the stressing while accommodating to the prevailing patterns is then to insert an unstressed vowel, which would normally be spelled with an a: overature!

(No, the OED has no cites for overature.)

Not eggcorns, but still reshapings, and interesting in their own right.

One last case.  Every so often on ADS-L the topic of hypercorrect -ing comes up; in this case, as for nucular, doctorial, and overature, the new version appears first in pronunciation and only later in spelling (if at all).  We've assembled examples of all of the following: chicking for chicken, childring for children, kitching for kitchen, and cushing for cushion, and a little while ago (from Wilson Gray) been taking care of for been taken care of (plus an assortment of other instances of velar nasal for alveolar, as in ongions for onions and mongsters for monsters, and at least one instance of velar nasal for oral stop before /n/, as in prengnant).  The obvious source of chicking and its kin is the instruction not to "drop your g's" in -ing, with the resulting "restoration" of engma to words that didn't have it in the first place.

But in addition, or in fact instead, the velar nasal might be appearing because people (even people who are not anxious about their g-dropping) are trying to find as much morphological structure as possible, and end up seeing -ing in places where it's not etymologically justified.  That is: a partial reanalysis.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at May 14, 2005 04:13 PM