Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I’ve been wondering about this for a while. What is an eggcorn? Or rather, WHERE is the eggcorn? In a one-word example of an eggcorn, say… um… “eggcorn,” its pretty clear where the mangling is. But some are phrases. “The bear of bad news.” No word there is mangled, all words are used properly in the proper context (as the utterer sees it), etc.
I understand the rules as far as the difference between an eggcorn and a simple malapropism (imagery etc.), but I feel a difference or a boundary between eggcorns like “eggcorn,” or “ansister,” and multi-word eggcorns. No real difference when they are short, like “a posable thumb,” since the two words of the imagery are just replacing one… but this feeling of a difference gets bigger with examples like “bare the brunt,” (but still feels pretty eggcornish)... and then you get to the possible eggcorn “the route to all evil,” etc…
A word is an eggcorn. “Eggcorn.” But in the longer examples, where is the eggcorn? Is the word “bare” the eggcorn? “Route?” Or “route to?”
The way we tend to post new submissions focuses on words: .... “Bare the brunt” (bare for bear)
When a single word is an eggcorn, usually people are “inventing” a new word. Sometimes a fractured word is an eggcorn, sometimes a rewritten phrase is an eggcorn, in these cases usually not inventing a new word.
The same phenomenon is happening in all examples, they all have the same CAUSE, and that cause is what defines an eggcorn… but still they just feel different to me. Am I the only one who feels that?
Is “eggcorn” possibly a category that has sub-categories?
Last edited by Craig C Clarke (2007-06-03 21:35:08)
I guess I’d start by saying that an eggcorn is more about the change of imagery than the change of words. But then I’d add that one cannot always determine that the imagery has changed until the words have—at least when it comes to parsing other people’s language. (See, for instance, the discussion of “fast and loose” being a stealth eggcorn until “faster and looser” was uttered).
You clearly point out that the eggcorns may arise by alteration within words or by whole word substitution. One viewpoint is that it shouldn’t really matter because the utterer is supposed to be oblivious to the fact that anything is amiss. So, the first person to utter the word “eggcorn” had no idea it was not a real word. And, the person who utters the phrase “bear of bad news” uses all standard words, but has no idea it was not the standard phrase. I guess I could sort of see the difference, but I see no operational reason to make any distinction if I focus simply on the utterer.
Now, having said that, I guess there is a difference from the perspective of the eggcorn hunter (or I wouldn’t have coined the term “stealth eggcorn”). You and I both know it’s easier to locate eggcorns that involve a neologism—since you simply have to Google the new word, and the examples come flooding out. The other variety is sometimes harder to track because they may require clever Google phrase construction.
So, again, my perspective is that the eggcorn exists the moment the imagery changes—but I don’t know whether other experts would agree with me on that. I would point out that “crap chute” is an eggcorn of “crap shoot”—and the two involve homophones. So, is the former not an eggcorn until someone writes it down? Now, what if “chute” and “shoot” just happened to have the same spelling? When would that eggcorn be recognized?
It’s almost like asking that famous question “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise?” I guess the question becomes “Is an expression an eggcorn if an observer cannot tell what imagery the utterer intended?” (But, alas, I’ve really strayed from the topic of your inquiry).
I guess the reason I feel a difference is because the one-word eggcorns just fascinate me more. They’re far more rare, and the fact that the person is often inventing an entirely new word really makes them stand out.
And because of the fact that some ARE entirely new words, there is the possibility that if the eggcorn becomes widespread and the original meaning is lost, an entirely new word can end up being added to the English language. I believe that examples from the past could be found. Perusing a book on etymology, you’d likely find some accepted words that began as eggcorns.
A similar thing has happened in another area that fascinates me, place names. Many place names were at one point eggcorns. In England there are places whose current names started out meaning one thing several hundred or even a thousand years ago that have morphed into something else that sounds similar but has a different imagery.
In the US it happens too, some native names for places and geological features were misheard and misunderstood and given new eggcornish names. My home town of Buffalo may have an eggcorn for a name, depending on which story of the origin of the name you believe.
Searching for eggcorns is like snacking on oysters. Every once in a while you find a pearl, the treasure of an entirely new word. Or at least that’s how it feels to me, that’s what makes the phrase-eggcorns feel different and somehow slighter or more trivial. Single-word eggcorns have the potential to change language much more dramatically than just replacing some old phrase with a newer one.
Last edited by Craig C Clarke (2007-06-04 22:05:52)