The idea to embark on this project hatched in November 2004. I had been interested in language for a long time and become an avid reader of the numerous linguistics blogs that thrive in the English-speaking segment of the blogosphere. Six months earlier I had started a bilingual blog of my own. During the same period, I was working on my web site development and programming skills by learning a little Python and diving into the code of the WordPress blogging tool, which is written in PHP and interfaces with a MySQL Database.
When I became more and more taken with the concept of eggcorns, which had been popping up on my favorite blogs, it occurred to me that it would be useful to collect them in a lexical database with a web interface for entering and retrieving records on individual eggcorns. After a number of rather pitiful attempts to create such a tool from scratch, I realized that it would be much easier to bend the WordPress blogging software to my needs. I started customizing (well, hacking really) an alpha-version of the code, and the result is the site you are perusing.
But maybe I should briefly explain what eggcorns are.
The word _eggcorn_ was coined collectively by the linguists who write at the excellent group blog Language Log. Linguists collect usage examples. Unlike language teachers or the often self-styled grammar experts who complain in the press about the decay of English, they are not picky: the actual, real-life use is what counts, and the most interesting bits — those that might reveal something about how real people apprehend their language — often stretch the received rules of correctness.
In September 2003, Mark Liberman reported (Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, ???) an incorrect yet particularly suggestive creation: someone had written “egg corn” instead of “acorn”. It turned out that there was no established label for this type of non-standard reshaping. Erroneous as it may be, the substitution involved more than just ignorance: an acorn is more or less shaped like an egg; and it is a seed, just like grains of corn. So if you don’t know how _acorn_ is spelled, _egg corn_ actually makes sense.
Mark Liberman’s colleague Geoffrey Pullum chimed in and suggested that this type of linguistic error should be called an _eggcorn_. Then Arnold Zwicky, wrote an enlightening article (Lady Mondegreen says her peace about egg corns) in which he gave his blessing to the term _eggcorn_ and explained that new labels for spontaneous reshapings of known expressions are sorely needed, and listed the aspects under which eggcorns overlap with but yet differ from known classes of lexical creativity: malapropisms, mondegreens, folk etymologies etc. Mark Liberman subsequently gave some more thought to eggcorn terminology.
Since then, the Language Log linguists and many others have gone eggcorn-hunting. Eggcorns have turned out to be surprisingly common: even the seemingly outlandish _egg corn_ is not an individual one-off error, but has been reinvented many times over.
The criteria of how to identify eggcorns have also been clarified. Not every homophone substitution is an eggcorn. The crucial element is that the new form makes sense: for anyone except lexicographers or other people trained in etymology, more sense than the original form in many cases. The more brazen among the eggcorn users may eloquently defend and explain the underlying semantics (metaphors, metonymies, convincing but erroneous accounts of the supposed history). Thus, thumbs down for _definately_ and _they’re / there house_ (not eggcorns, just phonetic misspellings: the non-standard versions don’t make any more sense than, or reinterpret the meaning of the standard versions), but thumbs up for _for all intensive purposes_.
There are, of course, borderline cases. For some low-frequency examples it is hard to tell what was going on in the writer’s mind; on the other end of the scale we find reshapings that are already so widespread that they frequently occur in journalistic writing or are standard forms in some regional dialects of English. The latter are not necessarily reinvented every time they occur, but learnt#. Some of them will enter the dictionaries, marked as folk etymologies.
The aim of this site is to collect eggcorns and texts that analyze them. I have found a handful of them myself and am adding speculations and observations where they occur to me, but I do not pretend to be the ultimate source of linguistic wisdom. Whoever wishes to criticize or to add to what is noted here is very welcome to do so. Every entry has a comment area for this purpose. (Turning a blogging tool into a lexical database has certainly advantages.)
internally eternally grateful to the Language Log linguists for introducing me to eggcorns, and to several of them for their kindness; I also thank the denizens of the
#wordpress IRC channel for helping me understand the code, teaching me PHP, listening to my obscure talk about semantics of expressions and reanalytical reshapings, and even catching on and starting to collect eggcorns — from their own writing, in a few cases.
Working on this site (the eggcorn collecting, the coding, and the design) is enjoyable and instructive. As I write, the work on the structural elements is still in progress, and new features and improvements will be gradually added.
I hope the friends of the eggcorn will find the Eggcorn Database useful.
: As a non-native speaker of English, I can attest to learning _tow the line_ — not in the sense of being taught, but in the sense of picking up this expression and the underlying metaphor as what I presumed to be standard English.