ilk » elk

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • Without addressing these issues, NOW and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women’s issues. (New York Times Opinionator blog comment, Dec 4, 2009)
  • My believe, today, is that this fool POTUS and his elk will crash and burn under their own wight. ( forum comment, Dec 4, 2009)
  • Her [Lakiha Spicer] and her elk are low quality people. (The Hollywood gossip blog comment, June 17, 2009)
  • Why can’t we, as a society, treat eachother with a bit of respect and give Madonna and her elk the 1st class treatment she deserves! (London Evening Standard comment, July 28, 2009)

Analyzed or reported by:

There is no obvious semantic link between the noun _ilk_ “sort, kind” and the animal of the family Cervidae, so this substitution surprises at first and cast doubt on its status as a genuine eggcorn.

Occurrences of _X and his/her/their elk_ are, however, readily found in online writing, and some of them are clearly systematic and non-accidental: The writer for _Leadership Nigeria_ employs the expression no less than 5 times.

On Language Log, reporting on Nancy Friedman’s original Sarah Palin example, Ben Zimmer offers some thoughts on what may be going on here:

> There’s nothing in the comment to suggest that this substitution was the result of intentional wordplay, but it’s hard not to think that the slip was influenced by Palin’s well-documented love of hunting big game in Alaska like moose and caribou. […] And perhaps the commenter is from a part of the country where milk is pronounced as [mɛlk] (say, Pittsburgh, Utah, or Washington State), rendering ilk and elk homophonous, or nearly so. Add the fact that ilk is a low-frequency word that lingers in crystallized idiomatic usage (”of X’s ilk,” “X and his/her/its/their ilk”), and it’s clear to see that this is a prime candidate for eggcornization.

Meanwhile in the Eggcorn Forum, our regular contributor Kem Luther finds a particular affinity between Sarah Palin and the _ilk>elk_ eggcorn, thereby strengthening Ben Zimmer’s point of a Palin -> Alaska -> elk connection:

* _And it is Palin and her elk that are running everyone else out of the republican party._ (Reader comment on Talking Points Memo)
* _i would rather be in hell first, than have anything to do with Christians like Sarah Palin and her Elk._ ( forum)

This is notwithstanding the fact that _Cervus canadensis_ is not specifically typical for Alaska. On the other hand, British English admits _elk_ for the animal called _moose_ in American English - compare with _Elch_ in German - and it should be noted that some of the cites are from British and Irish sources. (More on this topic in Bill Poser’s LL post.)

But to paraphrase commenter marie-lucie on Ben Zimmer’s article, if there is Artemis and her stag, why not Sarah Palin and her elk?

As the examples, show, however, the substitution is more than a Palin-specific nonce-eggcorn. It may still be questionable, used by writers who pronounce _ilk_ as [ɛlk] ans spell it phonetically; or it may reflect a genuine ideation of a cervid stand-in for the extension of the person who is the target of the speaker’s, or writer’s, finger-pointing.

| link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2009/12/11 |

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