regardless » irregardless

Classification: English – nearly mainstream – not an eggcorn

Spotted in the wild:

  • He lit a cigarette, irregardless of the “no smoking” sign. ()

From the American Heritage Dictionary:

Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.—

[Reclassified by Ben Zimmer as “not an eggcorn,” as it is best understood as a blend of _irrespective_ and _regardless_.]

| 4 comments | link | entered by jkmillard, 2005/05/16 |

cord » chord

Chiefly in:   vocal chords , spinal chord

Classification: English – questionable – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “The larynx is located in the throat and contains the vocal chords and glottis. … The air moves through the vocal chords, which are situated in the …” (link)
  • “remedy for spinal chord injury - health and fitness Victoria BC” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • commenter J. Francis (link)

Ann Burlingham observed on soc.motss on 6 May 2005 that “vocal chords” outnumbers “vocal cords” by a good bit on Google, even on a music dictionary site.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes, “The chord spelling can still be found in American sources in combination with spinal and more frequently with vocal, where the unrelated musical chord may affect people’s spelling.” It’s the association with musical chords that makes this possibly an eggcorn. But MWDEU notes that “the chord spelling with adjectives like vocal and spinal is historically justified and considered acceptable by a number of British authorities”. However, since “it is widely understood to be a misspelling in American usage”, they recommend the cord spelling.

[Update: 18 October 2007, Ben Zimmer] More about vocal c(h)ords on OUPblog here and here.

[Update: 7 November 2007, Arnold Zwicky] And now Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words (#542, 2 June 2007) reports starter chord: “This past weekend,” notes Michael Shannon, “I participated in a course for the use and care of chainsaws. Now, chainsaws are often accused of making awful noises, so I found it highly amusing that the printed material we were given constantly referred to pulling on ‘the starter chord’. Unfortunately, we weren’t told what key it was in.”

[Update: 6 June 2009, Arnold Zwicky] More from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words (#641, 30 May 2009): Jenny O’Brien tells us the St Cloud Times of Minnesota reported on Friday 22 May: “A fire started by an old electrical chord caused smoke damage late Thursday to a mobile home in southeast St Cloud.”

| 1 comment | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/05/07 |

spit and image » spitting image

Classification: English – questionable – nearly mainstream – and «» in/en

Originally entered by xerby, who commented:

Just a phrase, “spitting image”, I’d heard for about forty years. And then one day someone on the radio said “spit and image” which immediately made more sense to me. In the first we could easily visualize a boy picking up his father’s bad habits(spitting…like mothers don’t spit), or if you’ve ever seen a boy walking with his dad you’d see the same gait(as well as image). In the second instance, “spit” infers a more visceral, biological, connection.
And, of course, the visual “image” stays as part of the phrase.

Most major dictionaries report that _spitting image_ is an alteration of _spit and image_. In an article in American Speech, however, Larry Horn argues that the expression was originally _spitten image_ (_spitten_ being a now-archaic dialectal form of the past participle of _spit_), and that both _spit and image_ and _spitting image_ are later reinterpretations. (The _American Speech_ link requires a subscription to Project Muse — see also Michael Quinion’s summary at World Wide Words).

Horn’s article also discusses various eggcornish reanalyses of _in_/_and_/_-in’_/_-en_, some of which appear elsewhere in the database (e.g., off the beat and path, once and a while).

| 6 comments | link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/05/04 |

strait » straight

Chiefly in:   straightjacket, straight-laced, Straight(s) of X

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “…loosening a few strings of the economic straightjacket” (John Fischer, Harper's, July 1972)
  • “… showed up a straight-laced … church” (Dennis Farney, Wall Street Journal, 12 Nov. 1981)
  • “On the west, however, rise the Rocky Mountains, that immense range which, commencing at the Straights of Magellan, follows the western coast of Southern …” (link)
  • “… Northumberland Strait (X6-5) and the Straight of Belle Isle (X3-4, which was undoubtedly poorly sampled); Chaleur Bay (X6-4) was also significantly …” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • James Cochrane (Between You and I)
  • Paul Brians (Common Errors in English Usage)

The adjective “strait” ‘narrow, tight’ is pretty much restricted in modern English to the two expressions “straitjacket” and “strait-laced”, which most speakers seem to find opaque; its homophone “straight” at least makes some sense, especially in “straight-laced”, where there’s some possible connection to “straight” ‘conventional’. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (from which the two examples above come) notes: “The straight- spellings originated as errors, and they are still regarded as errors by many people [AMZ: Brians and Cochrane among them]. Because of their common occurrence in reputable publications, however, they are recognized as standard variants in almost all current dictionaries.”

Raw Google web hits on 10 April 2005 have the historical “straitjacket” over “straightjacket” by only 2 to 1, roughly (231k to 103k), but the innovative “straight-laced” over “strait-laced” by a similar ratio (104k to 47.8k).

[Added 24 August 2005: David’s comment, below, notes the correct “Straits of Magellan”. But this “strait”, too, very often turns up as “straight”: the Straights of Magellan, the Straight of Belle Isle (oddly paired with Northumberland Strait in the cite above), etc.]

| 7 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/04/10 |

fount » font

Chiefly in:   font of knowledge , font of wisdom

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “She was a font of wisdom and good sense.” (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.)

The noun “knowledge” in the heading stands in for a variety of abstract nouns.

Treated at some length in my Language Log piece of 28 March 2005, “Chomping at the Font”. The noun “font”, as in “baptismal font” and “type font” and as a variant of poetic and metaphorical “fount” ’source, repository’, has been steadily gaining on metaphorical “fount”; this is a replacement of a less frequent and more specialized word by a more frequent phonologically similar word that makes sense in the context.

| 2 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/29 |