magnate » magnet

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “… I was… reading over an American woman’s shoulder as she e-mailed a friend about her plans for the rest of July: ‘I’m going to find a shipping magnet and marry him!’” (Details magazine, October 2005, p. 152)
  • “… she was a playwright, journalist, magazine editor, conservative politician, ambassador, and wife of publishing magnet Henry Luce.” (link)
  • “‘I have always had a fascination for antique textiles and costumes,’ admits the suave textile magnet, lounging on the comfortable couch …” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Ken Rudolph (Usenet newsgroup soc.motss, 15 October 2005)

After Ken Rudolph supplied the first cite above, I googled up lots of “X magnet” ‘X tycoon’ examples, for X = shipping, newspaper, mining, textile, oil, publishing, business, real estate, liquor, automobile, fashion. Undoubtedly there are more.

There are also many occurrences of “X magnet” referring to something, someplace, or someone that attracts X. This is a possible
contribution to the replacement of the rare “magnate” ‘tycoon’ by the much more common “magnet”: an X magnate is someone who attracts X business(es) to himself (or, much more rarely, herself).

Unfortunately, as Jed Davis pointed out on soc.motss on 17 October 2005, there are also hundreds of references to “magnate schools” (for “magnet schools”), which suggests that MWDEU might be right in thinking that there is just a spelling confusion here. Not (yet) in Brians, for what that’s worth. In any case, I’ve labeled it as questionable.

| 7 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/10/17 |

cost » caused

Chiefly in:   caused someone his/her job, life, etc.

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • After speaking with Mr. Webb, I had nothing but more problems and it eventually caused me my job. (Rip Off Report, Oct. 16, 2002)
  • Dan refused to assert his rights, knowing it was his HIV status that caused him his job. (Dept. of Labor and Employment, Republic of the Philippines, Jan. 5, 2004)
  • Ogbeh’s bilious letter to the president which consequently caused him his job was a grand plan by the Atiku camp to distance itself, from the perceived sins, and if you like, failures of the Obasanjo administration. (Biafra Nigeria World News, Mar. 2, 2005)
  • I have no doubt that her habit of returning items to stores in which they were not purchased, and years after acquiring them, may have caused more than one clerk a reprimand, if not a job. (New York Times Magazine, Letters, Oct. 16, 2005)
  • He feels bold to talk about Kargil, an initiative that nearly caused him his life, burial of democracy in Pakistan, and much military and diplomatic embarrassment to his nation. (The Tribune, Chandigarh, India, Apr. 1, 2005)
  • I have to admit that I found it hard to see how the intersection was truly that dangerous, but I hadn’t realized how fast he was going, and especially with the setting sun on a silver car, I can see how his recklessness caused him his life. (Michael Manning blog comment, Oct. 1, 2005)
  • One bad decision, which no one knows better than he, has caused him his family. (Talk Left blog comment, Nov. 15, 2003)
  • I lost my best friend and fiancée to an oversight in a system that caused him his freedom for life. (RemedyFind review, Aug. 15, 2002)

Analyzed or reported by:

Marked questionable, since as Arnold Zwicky writes in the ADS-L thread, this looks “blendish rather than eggcornish” — perhaps blending caused X to lose his job (etc.) with cost X his job (etc.). (The example from the New York Times Magazine, which sparked the ADS-L discussion, is further complicated by the coordination with caused X a reprimand.)

[Edited on 25 Oct 2005 to incorporate new examples suggested by Brenda Shaw.]

| 4 comments | link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/10/17 |

Hobson's » Hobbesian

Chiefly in:   Hobbesian choice

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “George [W. Bush]’s current dilemma is a classic Hobbesian choice, which is no choice at all, the name of which derives from Thomas Hobbes’ belief that man must choose between living in a state of nature (a life which is ’solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’) or suffering under an arbitrary and absolute government…” (Letter to the New York Times from John A. Viterriti, 1/28/05, p. A20)
  • “In ‘Winning Cases, Losing Voters’ (Op-Ed, Jan. 26), Paul Starr presents the Democratic Party with the Hobbesian choice of living by its convictions [AMZ: and losing votes] or compromising its principles in order to get more votes.” (link)
  • “EPA did not make a Hobbesian choice when they banned EDB.” (Letter to the Wall Street Journal by Robert F. Harbrandt, 10 April 1984)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Various contributors (STUMPERS mailing list, July 2003)
  • Arnold Zwicky (American Dialect Society mailing list, 28/29 January 2005)
  • Mark Liberman, on Language Log, 19 February 2005 (link)

There are expressions that have eggcorns in their history — “cockroach”, “humble pie”, “muskrat”, to choose three of many examples from Michael Quinion’s Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds — but have now lost all tinges of their etymological sources. The eggcorn database would be be considerably swollen if we catalogued the reinterpretations that have gone to completion for all English speakers (except etymological enthusiasts). But every so often a hard nut comes along, and “Hobbesian choice” is one of them.

“Hobson’s choice”, for no choice at all, has been around since 1660, during the lifetime of the inflexible stable-keeper Hobson (c. 1544-1631), an otherwise unremarkable and minor figure in history. OED2 has the adjective “Hobbesian” (from the name of political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan was published in 1660) from 1776, but no cites at all for “Hobbesian choice”. So far the earliest cite for “Hobbesian choice” is the Wall Street Journal letter from 1984 (from the 2003 STUMPERS-L discussion). Perhaps the hounds of antedating will find an earlier cite, but it seems unlikely that it will get pushed back more than twenty years — still very very much later than 1660.

The obvious interpretation of these facts, which I suggested in my ADS-L postings and Mark Liberman proposed in his Language Log posting, is that Hobbes’s name got grafted onto Hobson’s, thanks to the phonological similarity in their names and to Hobbes’s much greater reputation. That’s some kind of malaprop, perhaps even an eggcorn.

But “Hobbesian” now seems to have an independent life of its own, with some sort of reference to Hobbes’s ideas, not just his name. Exactly what this reference is depends on who you read: a choice between life in the state of nature and life under an arbitrary and absolute government, as Viterriti has it in the first cite; a choice between nasty, brutish, and short, as Larry Horn waggishly suggested on ADS-L; or a choice between any two unacceptable alternatives (as in the second cite, from a 25 October 2003 column by Edgar J. Steele), which amounts to no choice at all (an idea explicit in Viterriti’s letter). This last possibility brings us back to Hobson, suggesting that “Hobson’s choice” might still play a role for some people in the interpretation of “Hobbesian choice”.

To further complicate matters, the citation that Liberman led with on Language Log — from a New York Magazine column by Kurt Anderson — turns out to have involved what Anderson later claimed was a clever pun.

So it’s a real possibility that some people are producing “Hobbesian choice” as a jokey play on “Hobson’s Choice”; that others have (eggcornically) replaced the obscure “Hobson’s” by the more familiar “Hobbesian”; and that still others simply have two expressions, somewhat related in meaning: “Hobson’s choice”, an opaque idiom, versus “Hobbesian choice”, with an allusion to the ideas of Hobbes.

| Comments Off link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/09/19 |

adverse » averse

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “But extremely averse circumstances are rare.'’ While Kagan concedes that severe neglect can have grave developmental consequences,…” (link)
  • “… at the age of 15 due to boredom and strong averse reaction to preppy private school. Had similar strong averse reaction to working in Corporate America.” (link)
  • “… recommend appropriate measures to avoid averse consequences for the enjoyment of human rights in the imposition and maintenance of economic sanctions.” (link)

The reverse of “averse” >> “adverse”, and apparently rarer than it; see that entry for discussion. Fiske’s Dictionary of Disagreeable English, however, treats this direction of substitution as the more common one, citing examples of “averse effects”, “averse reactions”, and “averse weather”. Google searches do not bear out Fiske’s assessment of relative frequency. Still, it’s not hard to find hundreds of examples.

The question is whether this is mere word confusion — perhaps encouraged by advice to avoid the substitution “averse” >> “adverse”! — or an actual eggcorn. As far as I can tell, this comes down to the question of whether some people see a connection between “averse” and “aversion” and import “averse” into contexts like ” — circumstances” and ” — weather” so as to highlight the unwelcome nature of the circumstances, weather, etc. I’m not at all sure that this has happened, and so have marked this entry as questionable.

| Comments Off link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/09/15 |

airwaves » airways

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • LaVallee has found a real need to teach supermarket strategies, particularly with high profit items such as sugar coated cereals promoted continuously over the airways and single serving microwavables stocked high on the grocers, shelves. (Univ. of Rhode Island news release, Apr. 1, 1999)
  • It took Slobodan Milosevic four years of hate propaganda and lies, pumped daily over the airways from Belgrade, before he got one Serb to cross the border into Bosnia and begin the murderous rampages that triggered the war. (Univ. of Pennsylvania, Arts & Sciences newsletter, Fall 2000)
  • As Election Day looms just days away, Al Gore and George W. Bush are making their final pushes over the airways. (Swarthmore Daily Gazette, Nov. 1, 2000)
  • Media Bill opens the airways to worldwide ownership. (The Scotsman, May 9, 2002)
  • This expensive improvement in technology will ensure that beloved shows stay on the air in remote parts of the state, where full-powered religious stations have been granted licenses by the SCC that bump low-powered public translators off the airways. (Utah State Magazine, Summer 2003)
  • Back on the Airways for the First Time in 43 Years. (Johns Hopkins University news release, Oct. 16, 2003)
  • A white New Yorker who bought black station WOKS in Columbus, Ga., was able to use the airways to get civil rights protesters off the street in exchange for brokering a deal with the mayor to integrate city facilities, Ward said. (Univ. of Florida news release, July 14, 2004)
  • Yet that thought no doubt terrifies not just Fox, but every one of the (handful of) networks that now control our airways — which is why Fox’s first response to the Greenwald film was to warn other networks not to take it seriously, or risk “opening (themselves) to having (their) copyrighted material taken out of context for partisan reasons.” (Lawrence Lessig, published in Variety, July 14, 2004)
  • And I, myself, thought we had dodged a bullet. You know why? Because I was listening to people, probably over the airways, say, the bullet has been dodged. (Pres. George W. Bush, press briefing, Sep. 12, 2005)

Analyzed or reported by:

Marked questionable, since _airways_ may be an accepted variant of _airwaves_, arising out of usage in radio broadcasting. The _Oxford English Dictionary_ lists this sense in the entry for _airway_:

3. A radio channel (cf. AIR n.1 1c). U.S.

1934 in M. WESEEN Dict. Amer. Slang xii. 165. 1946 Baltimore Sun 10 Oct. 18/8 By that time a radio broadcaster had appeared with a portable microphone but Ted had nothing for the airways, even after most of the other players had taken their turns at the ‘mike’.

From _Merriam-Webster Collegiate_:

4 : a channel of a designated radio frequency for broadcasting or other radio communication

And from _Random House Unabridged_:

5. airways,
a. the band of frequencies, taken collectively, used by radio broadcasting stations: The news was sent out over the airways immediately.
b. airwaves.

It’s possible, of course, that the ‘radio frequency’ sense of _airway(s)_ started off as an eggcorn which then gained acceptance in some quarters. But it’s notable that many news outlets such as the New York Times chose to “correct” Pres. Bush’s Sep. 12, 2005 usage of _airways_ (as it appears even in the official White House transcript), replacing it with _airwaves_.

[Edit, CW, 2005/10/14: see also _parting of the waves_.]

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2005/09/13 |