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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2006-09-23 17:21:52

From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Happy Birthday, Eggcorn!

The eggcorn is three years old today. In an early Language Log post on September 23, 2003, linguist Mark Liberman wrote about the curious case of the woman who wrote “egg corns” for “acorns”; noting that this reshaping didn’t quite fit into the more familiar categories of verbal reanalysis—like folk etymology, malapropism mondegreen—LIberman wondered what it should be called. A week later, fellow linguist Geoff Pullum suggested that “eggcorn” itself would do nicely as a name for the phenomenon. It seems to have caught on.

If you’d like to see the original post in its native habitat, you can go here: … 00018.html
While you’re there, explore the rest of Language Log; it’s the best of the linguistics blogs that have laymen as their target audience.

Too lazy to click the link but kinda interested? I’ve reproduced the whole post below as a series of block quotations:

September 23, 2003
Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, ???

Chris Potts has told me about a case in which a woman wrote “egg corns” for “acorns.” This might be taken to be a folk etymology, like “Jerusalem” for “girasole” in “Jerusalem artichoke” (a kind of sunflower). But it might also be treated as something like a mondegreen (also here and here), the kind of “slip of the ear” that is especially common in learning songs and poems. Finally, it’s also something like a malapropism, where a word is mistakenly substituted for one of similar sound shape.

Although the example is somewhat like each of these three named categories of errors, it’s not exactly any of them. Can anyone suggest a better term?

At greater length:

It’s not a folk etymology, because this is the usage of one person rather than an entire speech community.

It’s not a malapropism, because “egg corn” and “acorn” are really homonyms (at least in casual pronunciation), while pairs like “allegory” for “alligator,” “oracular” for “vernacular” and “fortuitous” for “fortunate” are merely similar in sound (and may also share some aspects of spelling and morphemic content).

It’s not a mondegreen because the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance.

Note, by the way, that the author of this mis-hearing may be a speaker of the dialect in which “beg” has the same vowel as the first syllable of “bagel”. For these folks, “egg corn” and “acorn” are really homonyms, if the first is not spoken so as to artificially separate the words.

[update (9/30/2003): Geoff Pullum suggests that if no suitable term already exists for cases like this, we should call them “egg corns”, in the metonymic tradition of “mondegreen”, since the eponymous solution of “malapropism” and “spoonerism” is not appropriate.]
Posted by Mark Liberman at September 23, 2003 12:33 PM



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