August 09, 2006

On beyond eggcorns

Mark Peters has a piece on eggcorns in the Chronicle of Higher Education today ("Like a Bowl in a China Shop", 8/9/2006). He points out that "[i]t's nice to have a way of explaining mistakes that doesn't make students feel stupid", and that "if students become eggcorn hunters, they would have to pay attention to not only what's being said but how it is articulated. They would have to question expressions that may seem perfectly acceptable and consult the dictionary to see whether 'throws of passion'" or 'throes of passion' is correct. They would have to make fine distinctions, like the difference between an eggcorn and other kinds of mistakes, or between an eggcorn and a writer deliberately being clever. Surely such activities would exercise the reading and thinking muscles."

I agree. But to exercise all of the reading and thinking muscles, you'll want to go beyond eggcorns in teaching the skills of linguistic analysis. And maybe the exercise metaphor is the right way to get through to the modern mind: "Tone up those flabby appositives: just three sessions a week with your personal linguistics trainer will give you tight, attractive prose in less than a semester!"

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 9, 2006 08:42 AM