Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Thanks for your understanding.
Chris -- 2018-04-11
Scoters are a genus of large marine ducks. One of the five species – the surf scoter – winters here in Northern California. Unfortunately, surf scoters were among the waterfowl oiled during the recent spill in San Francisco Bay, but as a result I heard a news story in which the reporter mentioned “surf scooters.” It makes sense: scoters, like most waterbirds, seem to scoot along the surface as they’re hunting for food. “Scoter” sounds pretty different from “scooter,” so I suspect that this reshaping must have gotten its start when people reading a description of the bird assumed that “scoter” was a typo (in fact, the forum spell-checker is flagging my spelling of “scoter” even as I write) – or when a fast reader (unlike me) thought they’d seen “scooter” even when the word was spelled correctly. In any case, it’s hard to get a count on this because the “surf scooter” is also a brand of motorized recreational vehicle. Examples:
Many of those birds were easily recognized as the types we see locally, but upon closer examination other more exotic mounts emerged such as a sea duck, a surf scooter that he shot last year while on a hunting trip to Washington.
http://www.post-trib.com/sports/672936, … ticleprint
Thanks to the forum I learned what a surf scooter was. There were dozens of them today at the inlet. They would swim in a line and all go down to feed underwater at the same time.
http://photography-on-the.net/forum/sho … p?t=151064
Irene Saw some Black Scooters and some Surf Scooters in Dalhousie
https://listserv.unb.ca/cgi-bin/wa?A2=i … T=0&P=3250
I want to shoot a surf scooter.
Do you think these words are related? Scoot, Scot, Skid, Skud, and so on?
My handy little AHD volume of Indo-European roots went missing in the last move, so I can’t see if scoot and scud and scat have some common IE ancestor (though I may make the trip to the OED later). I do know though that “scoter” enters the language pretty late—17th C—and that its etymology is uncertain. So that appears to be a dead end for now.
Right on! Those Scots originally came from Ireland anyway. Ireland, where everything skates along, unfathomable.
In Birds of Coastal British Columbia by Nancy Baron and John Acorn, the authors say “Originally called ‘scooters,’ scoters are named for their habit of scooting across the water before they become airborne.”
If this is the case, then “surf scooters” would not really be an eggcorn, would it? No reimaging involved.
I’m not sure about the “scooter” explanation of the “scoter” name, however. The vowel shift seems improbable (for you nonbirders—scoter is pronounced so that it rhymes with “rotor”). For a couple of other guesses at the derivation of “scoter”, see http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search … m=melapers
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.
I agree with Kem that the vowels in the two words make the “scooter” explanation problematic. And there’s a dating problem, too. The OED gives 1674 as the earliest citation of “scoter,” but the verb “to scoot” isn’t recorded until 1758. And things get even more complex: the OED notes that “to scoot” was originally spelled—and probably pronounced—the same as modern “scout.” The earliest “skute/skoot/scoot” spellings/pronunciations don’t seem to appear till the 1830s.
Since the oldest applications of this sense of “to scoot/scout” refer to ships and boats, it might be tempting to speculate that perhaps the influence runs the other way—in other words, that “to scoot/scout” is derived from the name of the waterfowl. But once more we run up against that truculent vowel.
In any case, the relevant paragraph from Kem’s second citation is worth quoting in full:
Opinions differ regarding the origin of the name scoter. Some believe that it is a reference to their habit of “scoting” (from “scooting”) through breaking waves; others consider the name to be a variation of the word coot, birds with which they are sometimes confused, or of the name scot, a regional name for guillemots and razorbills, which have a superficial resemblance to scoters.
The first speculation in the excerpt above led me to check whether the OED has a reference for “to scote.” Yes, it does, and the word’s from just about the period of the first citation of “scoter.” But “to scote” means “to put a drag upon the wheel of a wagon.” No help there.
Given the date sequence, the “scooter” derivation of “scoter” seems impossible. “Surf scooter” must be an eggcorn. And a classic. Good find.
These words that we use for indigenous plants and animals—some of them are quite old, aren’t they? I know they are used for outlining prehistorical branches of the Indo-European language tree. Wouldn’t surprise me if scoter goes back much further than the seventeenth century.
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.