ghost » goat

Chiefly in:   give up the goat

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • My old 14″ monitor went completely wrong and after a few years trusty service it finally gave up the goat, hence my need to find a new monitor for my little machine. ( review, Feb. 18, 2001)
  • The INS had finally given up the goat, and we were standby gauges only. (Naval Safety Center, Approach Magazine, 2004)
  • Canon mp760 gave up the goat. (TGForumz, Sep. 22, 2005)
  • One could argue that since he’s focused his practice largely on documentary filmmaking since the Eighties … he might as well have given up the goat for all the attention given to the form in theaters in the media until recently. (Reverse Shot Online, Winter 2006)
  • Luckily our old Toyota just got us through and then gave up the goat. (ABC Rural, SA Country Hour, Jan. 11, 2006)
  • Stay calm, collected, and don’t give up the goat. (Paul Davidson, Ten Rules for Making Rules, Apr. 16, 2006)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Jeanette Winterson (The Times, May 13, 2006)

Jeanette Winterson writes:

The other day my elderly country neighbour asked for a bit of help to get his new washing machine into the kitchen. That generation never use “it”, always, “he” or “she”, so I wasn’t surprised to hear the washing machine called “he”, but I was surprised by what followed: “My old washing machine, he’s given up the goat,” he said, in a broad Gloucestershire accent.

“The goat?” I replied. “Are you sure?” “Oh, yes,” said my neighbour, “ain’t you never heard that expression before, given up the goat?” “Well, not exactly . . . where does it come from?” “Ah well,” said my neighbour, “in the old days, when folks didn’t have much, and mainly worked the land, a man would set store by his animals, especially his goat, and when he come to die, he would bequeath that goat to his heirs, and that is why we say, ‘he’s given up the goat’.”

I am thrilled with this and from now on there will be no more ghosts, only goats.

| 4 comments | link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2006/05/20 |

oats » oaks

Chiefly in:   sow one's wild oaks

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • Betty Jean loves Ezekiel with her heart and soul. She hopes he will sow his wild oaks soon and will finally be able to love only her. (Amazon member review, for "Are You Satisfied, Yet?")
  • So if you are into artsy films with over the top romance this movie is for you . . . Just watch out for ape/wolf man thing sowing his wild oaks. (Amazon member review, for "Bram Stoker's Dracula" DVD)
  • This kid took a summer off to try and sow some wild oaks in the music industry. Didn’t pan out. (, Apr. 21, 2000)
  • Some people spend the first six days of the week sowing wild oaks and then go to church on Sunday to pray for crop failure! (National Christian Choir, Director's Notes, Feb. 27, 2006)
  • I sowed a lot of wild oaks in my youth. When the crop came in I was in the fast lane on highway to hell. ( message board, May 4, 2006)
  • I didn’t want to be all uptight about my body. I wanted to soar my wild oaks. (What it feels like..., May 17, 2006)

The substitution of oaks for oats in this expression is sometimes used as a joke (though note that two of the examples above involve jokes about “crops” that actually make less sense with oaks). It’s possible that this eggcorn appears more frequently in dialects where postvocalic stops like /t/ and /k/ are glottalized, though the /k/-/t/ alternation is not uncommon in wider usage (see, for instance, buck naked » butt naked). The last example (provided by slangologist Grant Barrett) is a double eggcorn, combining the oaks substitution with sow » soar (a non-rhotic substitution like sought after » sort after).

See also soak one’s wild oats.

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2006/05/19 |

lost » loss

Chiefly in:   no love loss

Classification: English – final d/t-deletion – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • Now naturally, the Shiites, as you were saying earlier, have no love loss for the Iraqi leader President Saddam Hussein. (CNN transcript, Apr. 2, 2003)
  • For Red Sox fans, especially in New England, there is no love loss between the two teams. (New Paltz Oracle, Oct. 16, 2003)
  • Those games are always competitive and fiery and there is certainly no love loss between us. (Amherst College Athletics, Mar. 10, 2005)
  • No love loss between Williams and Sharapova. (Edinburgh News, June 29, 2005)
  • Really, no love loss between the two of you certainly now. (CNN transcript, Oct. 12, 2005)
  • Sobule has no love loss for the Bush administration. (WorldNetDaily, Feb. 16, 2006)
  • No love loss for Zhang Ziyi in Hong Kong. (USA Today, Mar. 27, 2006)
  • Mind you, I’ve got no love loss for Phoenix. (Arizona Daily Star, UA Fans Sports Blog, May 17, 2006)

The idiom “no love lost,” i.e., ‘no love that is lost,’ is reinterpreted as “no love loss,” i.e., ‘no loss of love.’ Since lost and loss are closely related, this eggcorn is rather subtle — so subtle that it has even worked its way into newspaper headlines (Edinburgh News, USA Today).

The reinterpretation may help to clarify the idiom, since “(there is) no love lost” has never been particularly transparent. As the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms explains, the expression actually had two contrary senses through the 18th century: implying either extreme affection or extreme dislike. The latter sense eventually won out.

In the Eggcorn Forum Sphinxie notes the reverse substitution from loss to lost, as in “I am sorry for your lost” (appearing frequently in online memorials and guest books).

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2006/05/18 |

knickers » nipples

Chiefly in:   get one's nipples in a twist

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • “You won’t get your nipples in a twist over our choice this month — there’s no debate how great this one is!” (link)
  • “Just don’t expect me to get my nipples in a twist over your caterwauling about some architecture.” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Michael Palmer (Usenet group soc.motss, 10 April 2006.)

Palmer pointed out a poster’s use of “Go on, get your nipples in a twist” earlier that day, adding that “Google(tm) provides 389 hits, as against 193,000 for the standard knickers (also, 1,430 for nickers, 79 for snickers, 154 for knockers, and 19 for niggers).” The (primarily) British idiom is undoubtedly opaque to American speakers unfamiliar with “knickers” ‘underpants’, and “nipples”, which is phonetically very close to “knickers”, makes some (painful) sense.

| 1 comment | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2006/05/15 |

ado » to do

Chiefly in:   much to do about nothing , without further to do

Variant(s):  to-do

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • “It is much to do about nothing because I’m sure it involved human error.” (link)
  • “Much To-Do About Nothing. Why the city’s homeless plan is far from “ambitious.” by Doron Taussig.” (link)
  • “So without further to do lets see what’s new in PHP 5.” (link)
  • “Suddenly, Marc Andreessen appeared on WWW-talk and, without further to-do, introduced an idea for the IMG tag by the Mosaic team.” (link)

First pointed out to me by Thomas Grano, who was searching for occurrences of “much” as a mass determiner and found “much to do about nothing” in his data .

The “much to do about nothing” version is very common indeed: ca. 33,800 raw Google webhits on 13 April 2006; under a thousand for the “without further to do” version. Well, “ado” is rare in modern English except in these two fixed expressions, and “to-do” ‘commotion, fuss’ (which has an etymology parallel to “ado”) fits the overall meaning of both “much ado about nothing” and “without further ado”.

| Comments Off link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2006/05/02 |