Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I just stumbled on the eggcorn site a few minutes ago for the first time and was surprised to see no mention of “disperse” for “disburse”. The only “in the wild” citation I have available is a recent email from a colleague who I’d rather not embarrass by quoting the email for all to see, but it’s not the first time I’ve noticed it. Google gives 402,000 hits for “disburse funds” and 24,000 for “disperse funds”, so maybe this one is “almost mainstream”? It certainly almost makes sense semantically.
Welcome to the forum, Bob Ladd! This is a good one—it’s been submitted a couple of times. (If you did a search for it here and didn’t find it, don’t worry about it—our search engine can be cranky.) The earliest citation I can find is by Ken Lakritz:
# 115 Commentary by Ken Lakritz , 2005/03/06 at 4:21 am
‘disperse’ for ‘disburse.’ A substitution perhaps arising from the colloquial description of expending money as ’spreading it around.’
… The Departments of the Treasury and Justice have solicited new applications from
eligible candidates and intend to disperse $2.5 million in C-FIC funds …
… Whether your company needs to collect or disperse foreign currency, Mellon can
accommodate you through its foreign exchange (FX) desk, …
I also found about 190 raw Google hits for “dispurse funds,” which also makes a lot of sense—funds are being taken out of a purse. “Dispurse” turns out to be an obsolete spelling variant of “disburse,” but I think that for many moderns the etymological connection between ”-burse” and “purse” is obscure enough to allow an argument for the eggcorn status of “dispurse.”
I think some uses of “disperse” may be legitimate, eg a charity collects funds to help the homeless and then disperses them to the needy.
I am sure some are eggcorns, though.
Dis-purse as in “out of a purse”? Even if the purse is figurative (“the government purse”) I don’t buy it.
Disburse has a very specific meaning amongst lawyers and other related professional services (at least in the UK) to relate to external costs which are directly attributable and passed on to the client. These would include things like government fees to register something (a company, a piece of property) or taxes (such as stamp duty on property which is sold). Internal costs such as photocopying or the actual lawyers fees could not be described as disbursements and would be VATable.
It is quite easy to imagine someone mis-hearing that these fees were being paid by a client and “dispersed” by the law firm to the various parties.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will buy a ridiculous hat – Scott Adams (author of Dilbert)
Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day; set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life – Terry Pratchett
I’m prone to believe “dis-purse” as a distinct eggcorn. After observing eggcorns for over a year now, I’m no longer surprised by any new imagery that comes from the human imagination. I give it the thumbs up.
Last edited by jorkel (2007-09-09 20:23:33)
Given the nature of English spelling, I think it’s likely that some of the people using “dispurse” were in fact just trying to spell “disperse” and didn’t quite get it right.
But I don’t think an eggcornish “dispurse” is inherently improbable. Like Jorkel, I think it’s rather less weird than lots of well-documented finds on the forum. And etymologically, “disburse” means just that—“dis-purse,” with “burse” or “bourse” the French equivalent of English “purse.” Shakespeare Englished the term in 2Henry 6 as “dis-purse,” and the entry in the OED for the Shakespeare citation actually includes that telltale hyphen. There was also another French-derived variant—“deburse”—that in its turn spawned yet another Englishing: “depurse.” Admittedly, all of these seem to have become obsolete by the 19th C or earlier, but they show that “dis-pursing funds” has seemed natural enough to some English speakers. I think it’s at least possible the idea has occurred to some moderns, too.
...And etymologically, “disburse” means just that—“dis-purse,” with “burse” or “bourse” the French equivalent of English “purse.”
I thought I’d resurrect this thread to share this recent find: “Then you are on a monthly dispursement and billed to your credit card.” I was familiar with the very common misuse of “disperse” for “disburse”, but had never realized that some folks would be spelling it “dispurse”, which may represent some understanding of the etymology of “disburse”, though, as Pat also pointed out, it may be more realistic to assume that most of them were simply misspelling “disperse”.
Here are a couple of simblings that inject a bit more vigour into dispersion.
All they had to do to disburst the rally was yell
And the prize goes to: