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.

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


  1. 1

    Commentary by alan moorman , 2005/10/18 at 10:32 pm

    I think this is just a spelling error.

    Don’t know if it qualifies as an eggcorn.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Garrett Fitzgerald , 2005/10/23 at 10:36 pm

    Great site!

    This one reminds me of the Hacker’s Guide to Visual FoxPro 6: if you downloaded the HTML Help version of the book and searched for “publishing magnet”, you got an easter-egg photo of the publisher and authors.

  3. 3

    Commentary by mchava , 2005/10/26 at 10:52 pm

    I believe it’s a spelling error, too. Like most of the “eggcorns” on this site I think it’s just the result of ignorant people (and proofers).

  4. 4

    Commentary by Chris Waigl , 2005/10/26 at 11:08 pm

    Most eggcorns are spelling errors in some way, and all of them require ignorance of the standard form or etymology.

    I am unsure why someone would bother commenting if their only contribution is to state something that is neither original nor pertinent to the entry at hand.

  5. 5

    Commentary by mchava , 2005/10/26 at 11:15 pm

    Wow, sensitive? Forgive me for my completely unoriginal expression of agreement.

    And I believe my comment was pertinent to the entry at hand, and to all these entries, overall. I think it’s silly to sit around analyzing the thought process behind “shipping magnet.” Some people just can’t spell.

  6. 6

    Commentary by Arnold Zwicky , 2006/08/09 at 4:43 pm

    Barbara Wallraff’s “Word Court” column in the September 2006 Atlantic Monthly reports a more complex version of “magnet school” >> “magnate school”, submitted by William D. Sharpe, of Springfield MO. An acquaintance of Sharpe’s referred to his high school alma mater as a “magnate school”, claiming that the label referred to the school’s “mission of concentrating on a particular area of study and turning out students who had expertise in that area–that is, magnates.”

    Sharpe’s acquaintance first misapprehended the current meaning of “magnate”, as merely denoting an expert or specialist. This is a private meaning, a fairly common result of the fact that we pick up the meanings of almost all words from context (rather than dictionaries or other authorities), so there’s plenty of room for fixing on a meaning that’s not quite the one that most other people have. (Strikingly, sometime a private meaning is the exact opposite of the current general meaning.)

    Once you’ve got “magnate” meaning ‘expert, specialist’, then the way is clear for you to eggcorn “magnet school” to “magnate school” ’school training magnates’.

  7. 7

    Commentary by Derek Wyckoff , 2006/08/09 at 10:44 pm

    The Smothers Brothers performed a similar (and obviously non-erroneous) play on this word, using “maggot” instead (”…a big railroad maggot”).

    From a more cognitive point of view, though, since a “magnet” attracts things, it makes perfect sense to think of an “X magnate” (one who owns/controls a great deal of X) as an “X magnet.” Because of this, I tend to think that this is more than merely a spelling error; whether that qualifies it as an eggcorn or not, I don’t know.

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