Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pass The Eggcorns, Please!

A friend recently pointed me to a linguistic term that I hadn’t seen before: eggcorn (or egg corn). It seems that in certain dialects eggcorn is a homonym for acorn. It turns out that there are hundreds of these eggcorns in common use. But what exactly is it, in linguistic terms?

What Is An Eggcorn?

It may be simpler to define it by what it’s not.

It’s not a folk etymology, because this is the usage of one person rather than an entire speech community.

It’s not a malapropism, because "egg corn" and "acorn" are really homonyms (at least in casual pronunciation), while pairs like "allegory" for "alligator," "oracular" for "vernacular" and "fortuitous" for "fortunate" are merely similar in sound

It’s not a mondegreen because the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance.

Nor is an eggcorn simply a mistake. Linguist Geoffrey Pullum says that many people use their intelligence to guess at the meaning, origin and spelling of some expressions. It’s just that they guess wrong. He adds: ‘They are imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known.’

Eggcorn Examples

More and more linguists and language lovers have gone eggcorn hunting. The results of their searches have been gathered in the Eggcorn Database, which is maintained by Chris Waigl. I had a great time browsing the database, which now contains almost 600 entries.

Some examples of eggcorns include:

a tough road to hoe (a tough row to hoe)

mind-bottling (mind boggling)

antidotal evidence (anecdotal evidence)

bonified (bona fide)

bread and breakfast (bed and breakfast)

damp squid (damp squib)

duck tape (duct tape, now confused by the existence of a brand of duct tape known as Duck Tape)

fast majority (vast majority)

flaw in the ointment (fly in the ointment)

hone in (home in)

internally grateful (eternally grateful)

mute point (moot point)

old timers disease (Alzheimers Disease)

on the spurt of the moment (on the spur of the moment)

outer body experience (out of body experience)

put the cat before the horse (put the cart before the horse)

throws of passion (throes of passion)

windshield factor (wind chill factor)

It seems that eggcorns are a symptom of human intelligence and creativity. And they’re certainly fun to read. Have you found any good eggcorns lately?

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