January 13, 2006

Colbert immortalized again

Wordanista Michael Adams may no longer be "On Notice" over at the Colbert Report, though AP reporter Heather Clark is still shunned; but now another journalist has taken lexicographical notice of Stephen Colbert, and this time it's not for truthiness. Lane Greene, from economist.com, has nominated Colbert to be cited in the Eggcorn Database for copywrite, copywritten and copywrote.

Here's Lane's letter to Language Log, dated 1/11/2006:

Yesterday's post on the Colbert Report made me watch it last night [this refers to the show of Tuesday, 1/10/2006 - ed.] Not only did he return to "truthiness", but another linguistic item popped up. He noted to Carl Bernstein that "-gate" had become a common scandal suffix, and asked him something like "have you copywritten that?" He referred back to a word he'd used earlier, "sexageterrorists", and then said "I copywrote that." Obviously he meant "copyrighted" in both cases.

IP law aside (you copyright a work, not a single word; you can try to trademark a word), it's an interesting eggcorn candidate. Perhaps Colbert-the-character was engaging in another language joke, but instead it seemed to me that Colbert-the-actor, speaking quickly and without a script, might have actually made the mistake.

If so, he's not alone.

Some forms of "copywritten" might be an inflection of a phrasal verb like "to write copy", but most seem to be inflections of the eggcornic "copywrite". (Looking for "copywritten material", "copywritten music", etc. confirms this.) It's also an interesting candidate because most people wouldn't use "copywrite" in its noun form. I imagine that a lot of doubletakes would accompany a CD that carried the label "Copywrite 1998", but when people go for the participle, "copyrighted" seems wrong and they go for "copywritten".

There's already a citation in the Eggcorn Database for copywrite, entered by Chris Waigl on 2/25/2005, and the nominal form is reasonably common even on respectable journalistic sites -- searching Google News this morning for copywrite turns up 12 hits like this one:

CNN/money 1/7/2006: Sony (Research) CEO Howard Stringer brought out Hanks, the star of its new film the "Da Vinci Code," ... to talk about the importance of copywrite protection.

But Colbert surely deserves special mention, if only for using so many of the principal parts of the verb "copywrite", whether in jest or in earnest. And he shouldn't feel in any way disrespected, since here at Language Log we consider eggcorns to be a poetic form even more compact than the haiku.

Posted by Mark Liberman at January 13, 2006 09:04 AM