July 14, 2005

A few players short of a side

On Chris Weigl's Eggcorn Database, Language Hat has contributed short-sided: "another one of the American English /t/-flapping eggcorns, like deep-seeded, centripetal » centripedal etc."

The phrase "American English /t/-flapping" refers to the fact that in nearly all varieties of American English, instances of the phoneme /t/ that don't precede a stressed vowel (within the same word) become "voiced" (i.e. pronounced as [d]) and "flapped" (i.e. produced with a quick tap of the tongue rather than a full "stop" articulation). As a result, sighted and sided become homophones -- except for the minority of Americans like me, who have different sounds for the vowel, as discussed here with respect to the pronunciation of tighty/tidy whities.

It's easy to find other examples of short-sided on the web:

Does a short-sided, commercially motivated reform policy perpetuate regional arms races?
Short sided on my part, I am sure.
That digital editions of newspapers will fail because they're not interactive newspaper websites is a short sided argument.
To use firemen about a drug that can cause problems with the liver is very short sided, of the drug company and the advertisment.
"This would be a very short-sided action," Miller said. "As trustees, we are required to protect the coast."
It is my opinion that taking short-term savings is short sided.

There's one mistake in the DB entry: it says that "in soccer, short-sided refers to a game that is played on a field of different dimensions". But according to this American Youth Soccer Organization page, "AYSO recommends that all children under the age of 12 play short-sided (less than 11 players per team) soccer".

This also helps explain the origin of the eggcorn, which as usual has a semantic as well as a phonetic dimension. A "short-sided" team is one that is playing without its full complement of players, and this feeds into what may well be the commonest single Snowclone of Foolishness: <small quantity of essential items> short|shy of a <desirable collection>. With short, a brief web search turns up:

A few cards short of a full deck
A few fries short of a Happy Meal
A few beers short of a six-pack
A few ants short of a picnic
A few straws short of a picnic basket
A few noodles short of a Happy Bowl
A few threads short of a sweater
A few clowns short of a circus
A few guns short of a posse

With (the more British?) shy:

A few bricks shy of a load
A few oats shy of a haggis
A few sandwiches shy of a picnic
A few birds shy of a flock
A few straws shy of a bale
A few links shy of a chain
A few rounds shy of a full clip

There are also plenty of examples with different quantifiers:

One green maraschino cherry short of a fruitcake
Three pickles short of a barrel
Five quarks short of a sub-atomic particle
One can short of a 6 pack
One can short of a candelabra

New examples are invented all the time. Googling "a few * short|shy of a picnic" will turn up sandwiches (or "sangers", "sammies", "sarnies", "sammiches", "sambos" etc.), ants, buns, strawberries, apples, corndogs, butties, baguettes, rolls, loafs, plates, panini, hampers, baskets, snacks, forks, ribosomes, cans, and so on.

[Update: Ben Zimmer points us to the "The Canonical List of Fulldeckisms", available here and elsewhere.]

There's another whole class of examples where it's implied that the lack or failure prevents disaster rather than inducing foolishness, like "One wave short of a shipwreck".

Finally, I've pointed out previously that it's possible to have a predictive theory of eggcorns, and here again we can predict that short-sightedshort-sided ought to be matched by near-sightednear-sided and far-sightedfar-sided. The frequency might be lower, though, since the semantics does not seem to fit as well. (Though the metaphorical sense of being concerned with things on the near side or on the far side should help out -- and the corresponding meaning may also be involved in the genesis of "short sided".)

Google turns up the evidence, right on schedule:

I have astigmatism and I am also far sided.
There he was looked at and I was told that he not only had lazy eye but was also suffering from being far sided. This is when one can not see things very well from a close range!!
May we not be near sided and focus on our flesh to keep the law and may we not be far sided and focus on some future judgment of an angry God.
im near sided in one eye and far sided in the other
Fidel's baby brother is a spry 70, still considered the heir-apparent and, despite the consistent trashing that he gets among Cuban-Americans, he proved quite intelligent and, in the words of MSNBC, "far-sided" in the restructuring of the army after the economic crisis which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
If it is clear I wanna try naked eye, but I'm near sided so I will have my scope and binos near.


Posted by Mark Liberman at July 14, 2005 09:35 AM