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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2007-04-12 11:28:47

Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1456

Theory of the Stealth Eggcorn

Much of the focus in locating new eggcorns has been devoted to the sound alteration of words. E.g., “boon” morphs to “boom,” or “sharp” morphs to “shark,” etc. But the other aspect of an eggcorn is the alteration in imagery.

By now, we all know that a good eggcorn is accompanied by the replacement of one set of imagery by another. (For instance, to “take something for granted” means to take it as given. The eggcorn “take something for granite” possesses not only the sound alteration, but it picks up a new imagery: to have something hewn in stone). So, a “complete” eggcorn has both a sound-change element and a context-change element.

Recently I have noticed that eggcorns aren’t always borne out of the sound alteration. In some instances, the context change may precede the sound alteration! I refer to these as stealth eggcorns. The first example which drew this to my attention was the post “faster and looser.” In effect, the imagery associated with the idiom “fast and loose” may have changed for some utterers. But this mere change in usage is not sufficient for it to be labelled an eggcorn. Only after someone morphs the words to “faster and looser” does the expression become a full-fledged eggcorn. So, what else might we call the forerunning usage change but a stealth eggcorn?

There have been other examples of “stealth eggcorns” on this forum. Various people have chimed in about their interpretation of standard idioms. For instance, “wrack/rack one’s brain” has seen a few interpretations. So has “let the chips fall where they may.” (You can run a search if you wish to have more details).

Really, the implication of my observations about “stealth eggcorns” is this: Sometimes the mind pays more active attention to imagery than language, and word alterations may follow the pattern of what falls in line with the former than with nearness in sound. So, for instance, one might argue that “sneer” and “sneeze” are too far apart in sound to constitute a credible mishearing. On the other hand, when one mishears (or mis-reproduces) the idiom “nothing to sneeze at,” he may do so because “nothing to sneer at” makes more sense in the imagery it conveys. It’s as if people hear what they want to hear! (Needless to say, much or all of this is taking place on the subconscious level).

So, my conclusion is that eggcorns might be just as likely to be borne out of purely imagery-based changes as they might be borne out of sound-based changes.

-Joe Krozel
Apr. 12, 2007

Last edited by jorkel (2007-04-12 11:29:45)



#2 2007-04-13 11:37:33

From: Austin, Tx
Registered: 2007-04-01
Posts: 179

Re: Theory of the Stealth Eggcorn

I like what you’re onto here. I like understanding what’s going on behind the words. I think the result is that it makes us all better communicators. Scouring our language for an eggcorn in the wild is fun. You’ve done a good job helping teach us how to “catch a live one” and identify it. Thanks.



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