Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Eggcorns: Folk Etymology Creating New Meanings Every Day

"Like a Bowl in a China Shop," Eggcorns crashed into my life. That is the title of a thought-provoking First Person column by Mark Peters in The Chronicle of Higher Education issue of August 11, 2006 link. Eggcorn is a new coinage invented by linguists at the Language Log blog Link. Eggcorn is a mis-spelling of "acorn." But it also makes sense; as a Pre-Plant, an acorn is like an egg, sort of. It is different from a Mondegreen (link to an entry here at OOTJ), which are mis-heard songs, usually. Eggcorns are

a type of slip of the ear in which people mishear a word and mispronounce it, then insist that the malapropism is correct. Examples are "cut to the cheese" for "cut to the chase," or "preying mantis" for "praying mantis."

(NY Times article link on the Language Log) The key to an eggcorn is that it is a mis-hearing by a native speaker that has its own internal logic. "Also defined as "Mistakes ... far from being evidence of sloppy student writing, are often logical and ... made a kind of intuitive sense." (Mark Peters in the Chronicle).

For more examples and a network of people discussing eggcorns, see The Eggcorn Database Link. If you have ever caught yourself or students "pouring over" information, or "honing in" on an idea (instead of poring over, or Homing in), this is a great site to look at! Some more examples:

Ten-year track positions (instead of tenure track)

Manner from heaven (instead of manna from heaven)

Mute point, or mood point (instead of moot point)

A posable thumb (instead of opposable thumb)

One linguist notes that the essence of an eggcorn is that it takes a stale metaphor or trite cliche and breathes fresh life into it. There is a poetic and logical power to these re-purposing of phrases that makes them interesting and worth discussing.

One related language phenomenon is "snow-clones," also from Language Log link. A snow-clone takes a phrase form and inserts new words. So, they give these examples:

In space, no one can hear you X.

X is the new Y.

The "phrases for lazy writers kit" was dubbed "snowclones" by Glenn Whitman at Agoraphilia link.

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