Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Distinguishing between a malapropism and an eggcorn is often difficult. One of the best discussions of the difference comes from Chris Waigl’s comments on the malapropism “ad homonym” in the Eggcorns Database; you can find the original post here: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/english/684/homonym/
If you’d rather not bother clicking on the link, I’ve reproduced the relevant parts of her post as block quotations below.
[T]he ad homonym malapropism illustrates very nicely what elements are required to make an eggcorn: it is a non-standard reshaping of an established term (check!), homonym and hominem are pronounced nearly the same (check!), but it isn’t a re-interpretation that is based on (a correct understanding of the semantics of) the target word homonym.
In a typical eggcorn, the writer understands the sense of the word he or she actually employs; the problem is that the use takes up the place already occupied by a different word, often part of a set phrase. Here, however, the eggcorn users don’t give any sign that they know what a homonym is. In one of the examples, the writer obviously believes that ad homonym means against the man in Latin. It’s the Latin that is faulty, along with the recollection of what the expression is supposed to be, precisely. (And spell-checkers might have had their bit to add, too. Case in point: the spell-checker I just used on this entry didn’t know hominem and suggested hominid. Ad hominid also yields over a hundred Google hits, compared to several thousand for “ad homonym(s).”)
The replacement of a “complicated phrase” by another “complicated phrase” is rarely an eggcorn: often, the writer is unclear about the meaning of both, not only about the original.
Before Chris put up her post, I had responded to a post by berenda05, in which that member had asked about the difference between eggcorns and malapropisms; the original post is here: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … p?pid=382. Chris’s post is rather better than mine, but since more examples are often helpful, I’ve reproduced the relevant portion of my comments here:
As for the distinction between an eggcorn and a malapropism, eggcorns make some kind of sense of an obscure or opaque phrase, but malapropisms don’t. For instance, the phrase “star-craving mad” (instead of “stark-raving mad”) seems like an excellent eggcorn to me: it expresses a kind of hopeless, obsessive longing for the unattainable that we sometimes associate with mental instability. The reinterpreted phrase has a meaning that’s ultimately similar to that of the original, but it’s arguably a bit more transparent than the standard phrase. And the fact that it’s charmingly poetic is a bonus. By contrast, “the entomology of the word” (for “the etymology of the word”) is clearly a malapropism because it’s simply nonsense—it’s hard to imagine that anyone who knew what the word “entomology” really meant could write that.
Of course, these two examples make the distinction seem more clear-cut than it often is; if you go look at the comments for individual entries in the Eggcorns Database proper, you’ll see many instances where people dispute the eggcornicity of a given phrase listed in the Database.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit more because I said “next store” is a malapropism (MP), and then I discovered it’s in the database! Maybe it can’t be an MP because it’s a homophone. And it’s too common. And stores are usually nextdoor to one another!
Checking Wikipedia’s MP page, one that looks like an eggcorn (EC) is Mike Tyson’s “fade into Bolivian”—it makes some kind of sense since Bolivia is a remote country—but I guess it’ll remain an MP until it becomes more common.
This is something that bugs me on some of the entries in the eggcorn DB. For example, “mute point/moot point” is in there, but that mishap is more accurately classified as a malapropism than an eggcorn, as the two words aren’t exactly homophonous.
Lots of the entries in the DB worry me—but “mute point” isn’t one of them. A reshaping doesn’t have to be an exact homophone in order to be an eggcorn; in fact, I worry that many of the exact homophones are actually just misspellings. And even people who know perfectly well what “mute” means will argue energetically that “mute point” makes sense. And it might.