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Eggcorns

A linguistic entry, for those who have missed them from me. Here's an interesting page, oft cited on the languagelog blog: a collection of "eggcorns."

"Eggcorn" is the new informal term, coined by some linguists, for words that people have, essentially, gotten wrong; but which do make some semantic sense in their new ("wrong") version. The term came about because someone once referred to the little things that grow on oak trees as eggcorns rather than the proper acorns - if you didn't know how to spell "acorn," but had heard it spoken, you might assume that the word was "eggcorn," since they are sort of kernel-like and egg-shaped.

Some examples we've all seen on LJ and elsewhere:

"take another tact" (instead of "tack")
"throws of passion" (instead of "throes")
"say one's peace" (instead of "piece")
"peak one's interest" (instead of "pique")
"intensive purposes" (instead of "intents and purposes")
"baited breath" (instead of "bated")
"beckoned call" (instead of "beck and call")

Other examples from their list I haven't seen before, but which particularly amuse me:

"in lame man's terms" ("in layman's terms")
"doggy dog world" ("dog-eat-dog world")
"Cadillac converter" ("catalytic converter")
"spread like wildflowers" ("spread like wildfire") (That one I actually like.)

Naturally, the reason some of these phrases have been reinterpreted, and re-spelled accordingly, is that the original terms are not in common use - e.g., the rather antique "beck," "throes," and "bated"; along with any jargon particular to a certain discipline, such as the sailing-related "tack" in "take a different tack." Others, though, I can't account for, and I think the linguists are being generous in calling them "eggcorns" rather than simply "malapropisms."

Still, I have to admit that I would have said "anchors away!" without realizing the original term was "anchors aweigh." Now that I think about it, though, you really wouldn't leave the anchors behind, so "away" doesn't make any sense.

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
gillen
May. 14th, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC)
The back of the sleeve for the Christopher Lambert movie 'Beowolf' (an very loose retelling of the classic tale in a post-apocalyptic world) says that the story takes place in a "techno-futile" society.

"Our laser guns don't work any more. We tried to fix 'em but damn this techno-futile society!"
gillen
May. 14th, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC)
"an very"? Oy.
mollyringle
May. 14th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
Heh! "Feudal," I assume they meant.

"Techno-futile": term for an area where your cell phone doesn't get any coverage, maybe?
raethe
May. 14th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC)
Erm, "techno-feudal" and "techno-futile" are both actual terms in their own right as subcats of sci-fi. Techno-feudal is very anime-ish in concept. Technofutile was coined by Stanley Kubrick in regards to 2001.

While both have a certian meaning in their genre, they have very little room for general use - unless one wants to sound like they missed the shortbus to the trekkie convention.
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 06:16 am (UTC)
Hmm, interesting. On Google nearly all I can turn up on "techno-futile" is the 'Beowulf' film quote, with significantly more hits for "-feudal"...but Google's only one way to look for usage. And yeah...they seem pretty close in meaning anyway, from back here at a standard common-use distance.
dirae
May. 15th, 2005 06:41 am (UTC)
Movies like Metropolis, BladeRunner and Mad Max are considered "techno-feudal" films while something like 2001 or A.I. is considered "techno-futile" (both of which are Kubrick creations, alas). Also, the world in Ayn Rand's Anthem has often been studied as a techno-futile society. The techno-futile term is more alligned with literature study than with film studies, I suspect, since I have seen it more in regards to recent writings regarding supposed sci-fi novels. Anyhoo, it all adds up to a bunch of bunk - I once read in a film journal that The Matrix was a "futile study of techno-fedualism" or somesuch pap. Baffle them with bullshit, as they say.
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 11:34 am (UTC)
Well, 'The Matrix' was certainly a futile study of something... ;) But, yes, that phrase overglorifies the film more than a little. Always kind of fascinating to see how far humans go in our love to categorize stuff, though. You'd think "sci-fi" would be specific enough, but evidently no; not nearly.
terrylj
May. 14th, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC)
I can't tell you how much the "baited breath" and "peaking interest" irritate me, and I see them all over LJ. I want to poke those people with sharp sticks and tell them that, unless you've been eating worms, your breath shouldn't be baited.

Yes, I'm a grammar Nazi. And of course, I never ever make mistakes myself *coughcough*
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 06:17 am (UTC)
I have some "grammar Nazi" tendencies, but Linguistics muddled them all up. We're supposed to be "objective" and record how people do use language, rather than how they "should." It's still hard some days, though. ;)
gillianinoz
May. 14th, 2005 06:24 pm (UTC)
I would never call myself a grammar nazi - I'm just not good enough at grammar for that!

But it is a pet peeve of mine - these eggcorns. :-)

intensive purposes is one I've seen a lot.

Another that bugs me is spitting image Everyone uses it - but I have always been sure it is 'spit and image' - which makes so much more sense.
raethe
May. 14th, 2005 09:32 pm (UTC)
Might one be so forward as to suggest that one may be less embarassed to use "splitting image"... Unless, of course, one prefers the colloquial ejaculatory references. In which case, "spitten image" is a tad less personally insulting than "spit and image".
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 06:18 am (UTC)
Heh...I'd never actually seen "spit and image" (or at least not registered it) till now. Looks like the eggcorn page covered that one, though. I also never thought of an ejaculation reference either way, somehow. And I'm supposed to be the pervy one. ;)
dirae
May. 15th, 2005 06:29 am (UTC)
17th century literature, my dear... 17th century literature...

Spitten - heh, it all goes back to the humours and coded terms. FYI- "Spitten image" and "Splitting image" are actually considered somewhat insulting which is ironic since "spittin' image" seems to have lost its negative edge.
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 11:38 am (UTC)
Heh; if I were to take stock of all the terms in 17th/16th-c. lit that carried a sexual double entendre, I wouldn't be able to say anything that sounded clean anymore. (Which was a fun game when I was 15, granted.) (Or, rather, "granite," according to some.) :)
terrylj
May. 15th, 2005 05:14 pm (UTC)
I always figured it was "spit and image" because of the two Biblical stories--one telling how God made man out of dirt, and one telling how Jesus smeared mud (made of dirt and spit) on the man's eyes to heal him. I figured that those two stories got mixed and when people say that God made man "in his own image", they figure he used spit--and that therefore when someone is the "spit and image" of someone else, they're just like that person.

Or am I just smoking crack?
elycia
May. 14th, 2005 09:56 pm (UTC)
I once read about a woman who, having just moved to the Eastern seaboard, heard someone speak of some item costing "a nominal egg." She thought the phrase was clever, and she used it for years, until she figured out that it was the northeastern-accented version of "It cost an arm and a leg."
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 06:19 am (UTC)
Heh. I like that one. As with many of the eggcorns, it does make some sense in its way.
modmerseygirl
May. 15th, 2005 12:00 am (UTC)
Loved this entry, Molly. :-) You made me laugh and think, at the same time. :-)

spread like wildflowers -- I like that phrase, too. ;-)
mollyringle
May. 15th, 2005 06:20 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'll have to work the wildflowers phrase into writing somewhere...
narfistic
May. 15th, 2005 01:46 pm (UTC)
Wonderful. :) It's things like this that really make me sad English isn't my first language; I could never write as cleverly and entertainingly as is necessary about something like this. But I'll remember the eggcorns.
mollyringle
May. 18th, 2005 07:49 pm (UTC)
From the comments I've seen you make so far, I would never have known English wasn't your first language. You're doing fine as far as I can tell!
shebit
May. 16th, 2005 04:57 am (UTC)
One I read online the other day which amused me was 'without further adieu'. I'm really not sure whether it was an honest mistake - either an 'eggcorn' or just a good old-fashioned malapropism - or an intentional conceit.

A couple of words I used as a child which I will henceforth call eggcorns were 'backroom cleaner' for 'vaccuum cleaner' - being about 6, I didn't know what a vaccuum was, and the thing was stored in the back room of the house - and 'handburger' - well you do eat them with your hands, so it made sense if you were me.

I miss your linguistic posts - they're always fascinating.
mollyringle
May. 18th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC)
Hehe....good ones. I once said that our pregnant cat was having "contraptions," because, well, how could "contractions" be right when a contraction was a word like "can't" or "don't" or other things with an apostrophe? Yeah...

I shall try to incorporate more linguistics posts--seems to be a common interest on LJ after all.
shebit
May. 19th, 2005 02:30 am (UTC)
Cats having contraptions? I'm now picturing a cat building complex mousetraps - well, what other kinds of contraptions would a cat have any interest in?
laleonaenojada
May. 16th, 2005 12:52 pm (UTC)
I have several friends who refer to a "chest of drawers" as "Chester drawers" -- related to Chesterfield furniture, perhaps?

~A
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )