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Chris -- 2011-03-08

#1 2006-10-04 04:06:56

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

nonportable water

In a post that went up today on Language Log, linguist Roger Shuy—responding to an email from Kathleen Fasanella—talks about the case of a tanker truck in New Mexico that had “Non Portable Water” written on the side: … .html#more
Since tanker trucks are for transporting fluids, the label seemed a bit self-contradictory; obviously, “potable” was meant. Shuy didn’t find a lot of instances of this on Google, but I found over 800 raw hits for “non-portable water,” and most of them seem to me fairly clearly to be a case of the malapropism. All of the examples below clearly relate to potability.

Shuy notes that this confusion seems most likely in “non-rhotic” dialects in which “r” isn’t pronounced in some positions, and, interestingly, the first example I found below was from Australia.

Could this be an eggcorn, rather than merely a malapropism? Could people be rationalizing the “potable/nonpotable” distinction in terms of portability? After all, here in the US at least, we usually think of pipelines that transport water as carrying potable water. By contrast, the non-potable water used in various agricultural and industrial purposes usually isn’t transported over long distances. But I’m not sufficiently convinced by my own argument to submit this idea (which, as I said, I didn’t think of) to the list of potential eggcorns over on “Contribute.” Any thoughts? Examples:

The committee, in its consideration of this matter, questions the validity of the statutory requirement to treat the cold water supply in the Division’s laboratory buildings as non-portable, as there is no opportunity for the, otherwise, portable water supply being contaminated. … 160201.htm

If river sand was strip mined from a river bank of a river that tested
positive for total coliform and fecal coliform less than 4000 mpnc/100ml
but negative for E-coli, could it pose threat to the flora and fauna of
the country where the sand is being imported to? The river floods one
or twice a year and the mine area will be covered with the non-portable

Rainwater harvesting and management (RHM) can improve urban and peri-urban water supply and reduce effects of flooding. RHM is ideal for non-portable water uses such as car washing, flushing toilets, watering flower gardens, cleaning houses etc. … 469e8fc231



#2 2006-10-04 15:56:17

Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: nonportable water

POTTABLE” water is an eggcorn if one makes the connection to a pot for preparation—particularly in the context of camping. Campers might also be concerned with finding a source of, say, pond water, and treating it so that it can be made “portable” i.e., carried around for safe consumption. I would consider this other usage an eggcorn as well.

By the way, Klakritz mentions POTTABLE water in the comments section of the Eggcorn Database. … t-page-30/



#3 2006-10-06 04:36:47

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

Re: nonportable water

Thanks, Jorkel. I had a vague memory that K. Lakritz had posted on this word, but I couldn’t find it. The pottable explanation works pretty well.



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