slings » strings

Chiefly in:   strings and arrows

Classification: English – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • Bogged down by the strings and arrows of outrageous urban life? This cyberspace exhibition is the ideal place to visit and unwind. (Spider Magazine, May 2002)
  • The Numatic CTD-572 Carpet Cleaner has become popular as a contractor’s machine, providing not only exceptional power and performance required for this kind of application but also the ruggedness needed to take on the strings and arrows of commercial life. (Janitorial Direct (UK), product description, retrieved 2008-08-26)
  • Likewise, the Romanians’ yearning to keep their identity through Christian faith, as a people confronted constantly with the “strings and arrows” of fate, their need for stability and security may account for the great number of churches and monasteries raised all over the country. (, retrieved 2008-08-27)
  • Over at John August’s blog, he brought in this recent LA Times article, There follows a great discussion on the strings and arrows of a novelist’s demands and furies after a novel was adapted into an underperforming film. (personal blog entry, Dec 12, 2006)

Analyzed or reported by:

The Eggcorn Database has listed _stings and arrows_ for over 3 years, but _strings and arrows_ eluded us for a long while, even though it arguably makes just as much sense.

Many web hits are, of course, for literal (bow) strings and arrows, but searching for the sequence “strings and arrows of” we can estimate the frequency of this reshaping as about half that of the _stings and arrows_ citational eggcorn.

| Comments Off link | entered by Chris W. (admin), 2008/08/27 |

shuffle off this mortal coil

Classification: English – hidden – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • As we shuffle on and off this mortal coil (little omlet, folks) in a big rush, they stay still as they can; each day barely a breath. (link)
  • Mantel’s portraits of the two leading characters as well as those of the supporting cast—both on and off this mortal coil—are sharply drawn. (Holtzbrinck Publishers, book review)
  • It has come to my attention that your longtime movie-reviewing companion Gene Siskel has shuffled off of this mortal coil and made his way to that Big Comfy Multiplex in the sky. (, 20 October 2003)
  • Then, if that game prematurely shuffles off of its mortal coil… You have the honors of playing Zombies Ate my Neighbors! (PlanetBlack&White forum, November 15, 2002)
  • The recent ill health of Pope John Paul II has resulted in a news story courtesy of the Chicago Tribune on the actions of the various networks in preparation for the Pope’s eventual shuffle off of this mortal coil. (Ramblings of a Wayward Code Slave, blog entry, February 10, 2005)

Analyzed or reported by:

In her Boston Globe column _The Word_ of October 9, 2005, Jan Freeman reflects on what Arnold Zwicky has called the Recency Illusion: the idea that if you’ve noticed some non-standard or uncommon bit of language only recently, you believe that it in fact originated recently (see Arnold Zwicky’s Language Log articles here and here). As an example, she quotes a particular understanding of _shuffle off this mortal coil_, which is in effect a hidden eggcorn:

> The bait was a quotation, in a New York Times book review, from Greg Critser’s “Generation Rx,” saying that pharmaceuticals now promise “everything from guarding us against our excesses of drink, food and tobacco … to extending our very time on this mortal coil.”
> “On this mortal coil?” But when Hamlet speculates about having “shuffled off this mortal coil,” in what must be Shakespeare’s most-quoted speech, we all know he’s not talking about a Savion Glover move-don’t we? “Shuffle off” means “get rid of, dispose of,” says the OED, and “mortal coil” means “the bustle or turmoil of this mortal life.”
> So was Critser’s misunderstanding a new one? Of course not. To judge by Google hits, hundreds of people think “shuffling off this mortal coil” involves going somewhere on foot. Even in edited sources, people have been getting it wrong for nearly 20 years.

The eggcorn relies on an interpretation of _shuffle_ as “move or walk in a sliding dragging manner without lifting the feet” (Where did he shuffle? Off this mortal coil.) instead of the verb-plus-particle _shuffle off_ “get rid of, dispose of” (What did he shuffle off? This mortal coil.)

For hidden eggcorns, which do not involve a change in spelling, we often need indirect evidence of the writers’ understanding of the expressions they use. This can come in the form of examples that use _on and off this mortal coil_, the double preposition _off of_, or synonyms of _shuffle_, such as in the following examples:

* I suppose if I had to stagger off of this mortal coil, “beer potomania” wouldn’t be such a bad way to go (compared to most of the other diseases in this book). (Amazon book review)
* Tell me something - does he get to sleep with Elizabeth Shue before he lurches off this mortal coil? (Barry Glendenning, Guardian Unlimited Football, June 20, 2004 )
* There are numerous surveys that suggest that women who live alone spend their time skipping gaily through the tulips and sipping at crystal streams of joie de vivre until they eventually slip off this mortal coil with a gentle sigh of satisfaction between snow-white linen sheets, while men forget how to wash, walk and talk and are eventually killed by MRSA from their own underpants and expire in a sticky heap of jazz mags and burger buns. (Lucy Mangan, Guardian Unlimited, March 2, 2005)

| 3 comments | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/10/10 |

the die is cast

Classification: English – hidden – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • Unlike in a machine shop, where a part being machined can be checked for the dimensions during the process and corrected until the required results (dimensions) are obtained, in an iron foundry, metal derives its properties during cooling, and measuring and making changes during this period is not possible. Thus, once the metal is poured into the mould, the die is cast, literally! (Industrial Heating, Oct 01, 2002)
  • Mr. Pendlebury just happens to operate a modest die casting business, one whose specialty is producing paperweights, one perfectly suited for Holland’s needs. Soon the die is cast (so to speak), and the pieces are in place, but, as everyone knows, even the best-laid plans are subject to disaster once in the implementation stage as the human element is always the most unpredictable. (Amazon customer review, May 11, 2005)

Analyzed or reported by:

Arnold Zwicky quotes an e-mail from Keith Ivey:

> When I first heard the phrase “the die is cast”, I thought it meant that a mold for stamping out coins (for example) had already been produced from molten metal and thus set and could not be changed. I later learned that it referred to throwing a gaming cube. Apparently I’m not alone in having had this misapprehension.

He quotes a web site, supplied by Keith Ivey, too, on which someone states the same conviction about the expression’s origin and meaning:

> Perhaps you have heard the phrase ‘the die is cast’ or ‘the die has been cast’. This has nothing to do with gambling or dice; instead, it refers to a mold (die) which has been cast (made).
> Once the mold is made, everything which comes from it, will have the shape of the mold. ‘The die is cast’ thus states that a pattern has been laid down, and thus subsequent events will conform to the pattern. This phrase lends itself to assumptions about the future being predictable, once patterns are seen in the present.

It is easy to find other writers being unsure about this point:

> The Phrase Finder lists the origin of ‘The die has been cast’ as: ‘The die here is a dice. Julius Caesar is supposed to have said this when crossing the Rubicon.’
> However, my understanding was that ‘die’ in this case refers to the die used for forming material, and that ‘cast’ here does not mean ‘throw’ but rather ‘to form (molten metal etc.) into a particular shape by pouring into a mold’. So basically once the metal has been poured into the die it will set pretty quickly, and the shape (outcome) will be fixed. (link)

“Hidden” eggcorns are, in their most basic form, reanalyses of the meaning of a word or expression without any change in spelling. This lack of orthographic evidence makes it harder to find indisputable examples. It is quite possible that the authors of the two occurrences that are listed above were aware of the origin of the idiom and just decided to play on the words: we can’t know what they thought. It is, on the other hand, clear that, given the amount of uncertainty about the expression’s origin, genuine hidden eggcorn examples of _the die is cast_ must be out there.

See also _the dye is cast_.

| 6 comments | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/10/10 |

pay » play

Chiefly in:   he who plays the piper calls the tune

Classification: English – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • He who plays the piper calls the tune: The future of university finance (
  • The ethics are really guided by the idiom of “he who plays the piper calls the tune.” This is power disguised under good intentions. (link)
  • [Daniel arap] Moi said the adage “he who plays the piper calls the tune” mirrors exactly the relationship between developed and developing countries. (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

The proverb “He who pays the piper calls the tune” or variants with _play_ substituted for _pay_ are sometimes used in ways the sense of which is not immediately clear:

* Once a private corporation screws up they have to play the piper and watch their corporation sink like the Titanic.(link)
* As I once played the piper I must now pay the count
So saida to Moyhammlet and marhaba to your Mount!
(James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake)

On the shift in meaning the saying has undergone, an excerpt from the essay _Should He Who Pays the Piper Call the Tune?_ by Margaret Atkins (footnote omitted):

> The simple phrase ‘pay the piper’ predates the longer version by some centuries. It was used simply to mean ‘bear the cost’, with no reference at all to controlling the piper’s playing. Thus the Earl of Chesterfield, writing to his son about his hopes for peace in Europe, said, ‘The other powers cannot well dance, when neither France nor the maritime powers can, as they used to do, pay the piper’. In other words, war is unlikely, because no one will foot the bill. This usage remains alongside others right into the late twentieth century. Even when the phrase ‘call the tune’ or ‘choose the tune’ is added, the resulting proverb is not, at first, used to control the piper, but rather to emphasise the rights of the payer as against others who might be enjoying the piper’s playing. Mr Evan Spicer, for example, argued, in a debate on the constitution of a public water authority for London, that as London ratepayers were paying for the water supply their council should have full control of it, rather than share control with the chairmen of outside councils: ‘Londoners had paid the piper and should choose the tune’.

_Play the piper_ is also used to refer to an act of enticing unsuspecting victims and leading them into danger, as in the folk tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. German has the idiom _nach jemands Pfeife tanzen_, to dance to someone’s pipe, often understood to allude to this tale.

| 1 comment | link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/07/12 |

already » all ready

Classification: English – citational

Spotted in the wild:

  • 1. if you haven’t all ready done so, create a directory called utility (link)
  • It’s December 11th and over 30,000 people come to march to revitalize youth, to affirm traditional family values, to reclaim the state, refocus the nation and visualize in the natural what God had all ready done in eternity. (link)
  • See any documentation that came with your network card if you are having trouble, also feel free to ask friends to help set up your computer if they have all ready done their own. (link)
| 3 comments | link | entered by thiebes, 2005/03/24 |