August 18, 2005

The birth of an eggcorn

"Spin Bunny" hears segue, thinks it's a neologism based on a metaphorical use of segway, blogs about it:

Played buzzword bingo in meetings? We thought so. PR is such a sad industry that such pasttimes are required in order to keep your mind on the job.

Yet buzzwords have sunk lower than we ever thought possible. Overheard in a recent fluffette meeting was (albeit by a client) the use of the word Segway as a verb. As in "Oh I guess now's the time to just Segway into that issue a little".

Bunny is not the first to perceive segue this way: Izzy's Guide to Starting and Running an Underground Paper sensibly suggests:

Before you craft the first sentence in a paragraph, ask yourself, "What the hell is my point for this paragraph?" Think about your thesis and what you're trying to argue. The first few sentences must support or relate to the strong stand you've already made on an issue.... The rest of the paragraph should be spent arguing this one point. Don't segway into another point. You want coherent writing, not chaos.

And at ("Writing and Studying Skills and Tips"), as part of "How to Write a Five Paragraph Essay", we have the nominal form:

The Introduction consists of an opening line. This opening line can be a generalization about life that pertains to your topic. It can also be a quotation. Another segway into the introduction is to start it with a little anecdote (or story). By "breaking the ice" so to speak with the reader, you are luring him or her into the rest of your essay, making it accessible and intriguing.

Not all uses are in advice to writers:

The second X-Files movie may or may not reveal straight undisputeable facts, but the last episode was still a great closer and segway into the movie, which I sure as hell can't wait for.

Overall, this little book offers much as a solid segway into intro Perl programming for bioinformatics.

As it is, this can be a good segway into an art lesson you have planned.

Someone asked me recently, "What's up with the 'jay Is' thing anyway?" (well, that's not entirely true, but makes a nice segway into a new blog entry)...

Gee, you spout a boatload of nonsense and gibberish about God knows what, then segway into something about your hard drive going bye bye because you picked up a virus?

As usual with eggcorns, this is a perfectly sensible metaphor, and wouldn't raise any problems if it weren't blocked by an existing usage.

[Update: Ben Zimmer points out that "segway" as an oddball spelling for segue pre-dates the naming of the scooter:

Just read your LgLog post on "segway". Though your first example is clearly an eggcorn, the other examples may simply be spelling errors, with no semantic reinterpretation (though the prominence of the Segway brand may have popularized the error). One can find the "segway" spelling in the Usenet archive all the way back to 1985:
Note: The June issue of JSF is a segway into the July issue and is therefore more enjoyable if you know the characters.

Also, "segway" has appeared as a conscious misspelling long before the introduction of the Segway scooter. Larry Monroe has hosted an Austin-based radio and TV show called "Segway City" since 1977:


[Update #2: Rich Baldwin had another theory...

An anecdote relating to your segue post, which you may find funny.

When I was very much younger, and having never understood it the few times I saw it in print, I thought the word segue was actually spelled segway. Further, I was sure that it was a borrowing from pig-latin, like ixnay. But I could never figure out what a "weseg" was; I kept expecting to find a well used phrase from somewhere in the worlds of stage and screen describing scene changes that started with "w" and had a "seg" in it, but I always came up empty handed.

Boy was I surprised when I learned the correct pronunciation of "seh-gooey"!


[Another anecdote by email from Ella at Cherrier:

My boyfriend produces an internet radio show, and the description for it in the directories used to read that it had "a million different segways going all over the place". He never really understood why this image put me into paroxysms of laughter - but eventually my excess of hilarity shamed him into changing it, more's the pity.

And Neal Goldfarb sent in citations showing that the spellings { segueway} and even { sequeway} are fairly common as well. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 18, 2005 06:57 AM