Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I saw that there was another one for lay men’s terms, in the network… not this one though. While google does yield a lot of results, I really have no idea if anyone else but me actually thought that or are just making puns, but until recently I had been under the impression that it was one of those expressions or figures of speech named after someone, kinda like the term “Freudian Slip”.
I never bothered to ask who this “Lehmann” was, I just pictured him as some philosopher or psychologist or even comedian that thinks of simple explanations. It was both embarrassing and hilarious at the same time. I asked someone who “Lehmann” was and they laughed and started explaining what the term means, but I interrupted them saying “I KNOW what it means, but who’s Lehmann?”
The weirdest thing was that I was 18.
Lehmann’s Terms could be akin to “according to Hoyle” or “Murphy’s Law” or “Robert’s Rules” (or is it “Roberts’”?). So it’s an understandable misunderstanding.
Your own misunderstanding may constitute a “personal eggcorn,” but I think in more widespread terms this one is more an intentional play on words than an eggcorn, as I found a number of people named Lehmann who blog or otherwise publish as well as writers writing about someone named Lehmann and punning the word in their title or article:
In Lehmann’s Terms by Tom Lehmann – “The Dough Doctor” Tom Lehmann …In Lehmann’s Terms. by Tom Lehmann – “The Dough Doctor”. Tom Lehmann Question: I’ve heard and read where you have made a reference to a special coated …
www.pmq.com/mag/2004march_april/tom_lehmann.shtml – 8k – Cached – Similar pages
[ More results from www.pmq.com ]
In Lehmann’s Terms, The Dough Doctor | Pizza Marketing Quarterly …Tom Lehmann. The Dough Doctor. Question: We’re planning to change the size of our large pizza from 16-inches to 18-inches. How much dough should we use for …
www.pmqcanada.com/mag/1/lehmann.php – 26k – Cached – Similar pages
Wolfsburg target Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann – Football News – TelegraphLehmann’s terms: The German goalkeeper (left) sits it out for Arsenal during the … “Jens Lehmann is one of the top people in his position,” said Wolfsburg …
www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/main.jhtml?xm … nal105.xml – 43k – Cached – Similar pages
Matthew Yglesias: Party Like Its 1999When I was 17…it was a very strange year from In Lehmann’s Terms Picked this one up from Matt Y. Go to Music Outfitters, and type the year you graduated …
yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/2005/08/party_like_its_.html – 42k – Cached – Similar pages
KN@PPSTER: BlogProps: In Lehmann’s TermsBlog of libertarian activist, author and publisher Thomas L. Knapp.
knappster.blogspot.com/2006/01/blogprops-in-lehmanns-terms.html – 51k – Cached – Similar pages
Lehmann’s Terms – Sports (General)Lehmann’s Terms, Freshman Pat Lehman Hopes to Return to Nationals.
www.msureporter.com/news/2004/04/08/Spo … 9570.shtml – 43k – Cached – Similar pages
JSTOR: Rosamond Lehmann: A RevaluationPart of the reason for the current neglect of Miss Lehmann’s work is clearly her silence. .... chaos, and effort as, in Miss Lehmann’s terms, one can. ...
links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0010-7484(197421)15%3A2%3C203%3ARLAR%3E2.0.CO%3B2-N – Similar pages
Marginal Revolution: Real (Estate) Rent SeekingThe 6% Solution from In Lehmann’s Terms Alex has his Canadian dander up aboot real estate commissions: The Justice Department may file suit against the …
www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevo … e_ren.html – 770k – Cached – Similar pages
Last edited by JonW719 (2007-12-14 15:17:13)
Feeling quite combobulated.
That’s possibly the case, but in my situation it was an eggcorn.
I was surprised how common “Lehman(n)’s terms” was on the web. Even subtracting the obvious puns, it is clear that there is a widespread misunderstanding that this expressions incorporates a proper name.
But is it an eggcorn? For it to qualify, we would need a widely-known Lehman(n) who had some penchant for explaining things so people could understand them, wouldn’t we? I can’t think of any Lehman who would qualify. Perhaps the most famous Lehman(n) is Lotte, the singer. However, as long as the person misusing the term THOUGHT that such a Lehman existed, the phrase would be an eggcorn for her.
Eggcorn or not, an interesting find. Perhaps this Lehman could qualify as the patron saint of eggcorns. I think the position is vacant. Someone should generate the required hagiography.
I don’t know that we ever resolved the issue about imagery needing to be specific, but my inclination is to accept imprecise imagery under the eggcorn umbrella. There’s no reason that eggcorns cannot possess a certain degree of mistique to them because an utterer is willing to defer to an indistinct source.
In the present case, “Lehmann” is some unknown authority. (Indeed, there is no known “Murphy” in “Murphy’s Law.”) I would further point out that we use idioms every day that many of us don’t fully understand: What do we imagine when we say that someone is “playing fast and loose”? What does it mean when something is “nothing to sneeze at”? In all cases—idiom or eggcorn—we accept a meaning, but may not fully understand the literal sense of it.
To me, the central question of the “Lehmann” eggcorn is one of prevalence. Sure, people have personal eggcorns all the time, and they are fun. But, the strongest eggcorns are those that are widespread—where multiple individuals independently ascribe meaning to incorrect terms. Let’s judge the “Lehmann” eggcorn on it’s prevalence because I find the foggy imagery amusingly appropriate for an eggcorn.
I’m not sure the issue the precision or imprecision of the speaker’s reference, jorkel. The question about “Lehman’s terms” is whether there is any imagery at all that provides a reason for using the alternate phrasing. If, for example, someone used the phrase “achehorn” for “acorn,” the coined phrase would probably not be an eggcorn, since nothing about “ache” or “horn” makes the substitution plausible—it’s just a mishearing or misspelling. Similarly, if someone says “Lehman’s terms” but has no background story about a simplifying Lehman, why would we think the substitution to be anything more than a mishearing?
I’m in partial agreement kem… I’ve pointed out in the past how my mistaking ampersand for “amber sand” would not constitute an eggcorn. However, zak seems to suggest that he envisioned some unknown authority named “Lehman.” In this case, I would give the nod to the eggcorn because the imagery is embodied in the belief that the authority exists—rather than the precise knowledge of who that authority might be. Just my opinion.
Last edited by jorkel (2007-12-18 08:29:47)
I see. Yes, what you say makes sense. We don’t really need an actual Lehman, or even an imaginary Lehman with some biographical details filled in. Just the hint of the person given in the expression “Lehman’s terms” is enough to support the belief in his existence and to complete the gauzy eggcorn circle.
Perhaps we should call these eggcorns rosannadannas.
I also think Jorkel’s on the money here. People conceive of different kinds of phrases as creating meaning in different ways, so it seems reasonable to assume that eggcorns will reflect that fact. I think Kem’s right, too, in saying that “achecorn” wouldn’t be eggcornish because the phrase seems so immediately to imply something about the word – but if you know what “acorn” really means, that implication just doesn’t make any sense. Phrases named after a person are different from something like “achecorn”; we don’t demand that they make the same level of immediate sense. The second we hear or read a phrase like “Hobson’s choice” or “Maxwell’s demon” for the first time, we know instinctively that we’re probably not going to be able to divine the meaning of the phrase from that name alone. You either need to know the story behind the phrase, or you just have to have learned its conventional meaning somewhere.
I’ve been thinking about “cafe ole” (for “cafe au lait”) along these lines for quite a while now, and I’ve slowly convinced myself that it’s probably a bona fide eggcorn. (It was suggested on the forum some time ago.) It follows a well-established pattern of names for food and drink in which the modifier follows the noun (and is sometimes drawn from a foreign language): cafe royale, cafe mexicano, shrimp louie, eggs benedict. If you know a bit of French, “cafe au lait” is self-explanatory. But for most of us, there’s no obvious reason why adding brandy and sugar to black coffee makes it “royale.” Or why a poached egg on a muffin should have something to do with a “Benedict.” But the odd-but-familiar syntactic pattern tips us off that these phrases belong to a group of food/beverage terms that are conventionally opaque – we know not to ask too many questions about why their names mean what they mean. “Cafe ole” fits right in with this pattern – and it does make a bit of sense. “Ole” is a term of approbation, and no there’s no particular reason why a pleasing combo like coffee and milk shouldn’t inspire some enthusiasm. Nevertheless, it’s not terribly specific – there are many other types of coffee that seem just as worthy of evoking an “ole” from caffeine addicts. Like “cafe royale,” then, there’s something a touch random about “cafe ole.” But my main point here is that speakers seem to understand that certain types of words and phrases are less likely to make immediate sense than others. And if a potential eggcorn seems genuinely to fit into one of these types, then we need to modify the usual standards of eggcornicity a bit.
Getting back to “Lehman(n)’s terms,” this seems to be an example of a reverse eggcorn – an eggcorn in which a phrase that seems less familiar has been substituted for a more familiar one. I’m a bit surprised by it – I really didn’t think that “layman’s terms” was so uncommon. And I’m also surprised that people who aren’t familiar with “layman” know enough about German spelling conventions to come up with “Lehman’s terms.”
I didn’t find a lot of instances of “Lehman’s terms” that weren’t puns, but there definitely are a few authentic hits out there. Most of them appear to be showing up on computer/technology discussion forums. That’s probably unsurprising – the pro/layman divide is far more visible in reference to computers, etc. than it is in any other aspect of our daily lives right now. But I also wonder whether this thing isn’t getting disseminated on the computer forums specifically. Examples:
In Lehman’s terms, not computer speak, what is the differance between a Mac and a PC??
http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/answers2/fr … 204AALj61X
(Please bare in mind that I am not
really a computer man so lehman’s terms would be great.)
http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/answers2/fr … 204AALj61X
So can someone explain to me in Lehman’s terms what the biggest difference between CCFL and LED? I know about LED’s and their pros vs pretty much any other light source, but is it a show stopper when we’re talking about LCD TV’s?
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthre … 988&page=2
(Bizarrely, the form of the first citation above is being conflated with that of the second no matter what I try to do. They’re from completely different websites, but for some reason once I hit “submit,” the forum’s formatter substitutes the first URL for the second. And when I tried giving the correct URL to you here, it deleted it again. Deeply weird. I think this is the first sign that the robots are finally starting to take over. You’ll just have to trust that I’m not making the first citation up. Or google it yourself.)
Last edited by patschwieterman (2007-12-17 03:01:34)
I’m not really surprised that “laymen” is unfamiliar to many people. I have some vague memory of having to look that term up a long time ago, probably in my teens. I think people who use the phrase “in Lehman’s terms” are substituting one unknown term for another.
Part of the problem with understanding the phrase might be the syntax. The phrase is “in layman’s terms,” but “layman” is singular. We expect a word used without an article to be plural. If the possessive in the phrase were plural (i.e., “in laymen’s terms”), the hearer might clue into the fact that a certain type of person was being referenced, even if he/she did not know what kind of person it was. Same is true if the possessive had an article (“in a layman’s terms”). But the unarticled singular doesn’t encourage the hearer to parse the “man” out of “layman.” The missing article does, however, prime the proper name circuits of the brain. So the path of least resistance leads to “Lehman,” even though that is an uncommon (unless you are Mennonite) surname.
Except that “layman’s” and “laymen’s” are pronounced almost identically.
And the key to “Lehmann’s terms” (in fact to almost all eggcorns) is that the person using the eggcorn hasn’t SEEN the proper term in question—at least, not to identify it as itself.
Almost identically? And you would be from….NY?
Kem—it’s not clear to me what you’re implying. Are you stressing the “almost” or the “identically”? In other words, do you feel that the two words aren’t very close to being identical in standard American pronunciation? Or do you feel they’re so obviously identical that the “almost” is unnecessary?
yeah, which way are you making fun of me? ;-)
(I think I put in the “almost” bcs those guys at Language Log scare me, w/ their phonetic spellings of all the tiny little glottal nuances in certain syllables)
I grew up in Iowa, w/ a strict mother; she’d had made me pronounce the short “e” in “men’s.” The short “a” in “man’s” sounds more like a “u.”
See, now one of those Language Log guys/dolls is gonna come on here and use those phonetic symbols, and stuff, to tell me how you REALLY describe the subtle difference between the plural ”-men” and the singular ”-man.”
And of course NYers (of which I am now one) pronounce the name “Lehmann” as “LAY-mun”; I
Lehman/Lehmann isn’t that uncommon a name—there’s a huge investment bank, and lots of Germans and Jews, with that name.
Last edited by TootsNYC (2007-12-19 18:21:38)
I can’t even do satire intelligibly. This is not good.
What I meant was that the “a” in man and the “e” in men are well-differentiated in my midwest accent. We push the short “e” toward the short “i” sound (yes, “pen” and “pin” sound the same to me), and that takes it farther from the New England short “e.”
Somewhere, though, I had a real point. Oh, yes. The odd syntax of the phrase “in layman’s terms.” Take the “layman” out of it: if I wrote “in __ ’s terms,” not too many words-except proper names-would complete the phrase, right? So in a person that doesn’t know the word “layman” the neural activations naturally head down the pathways that lead to a proper name. The signals could be deflected, though, if the parser picked “man” out of the compound “layman.” Perhaps, the parser might suggest, what is being said is something like “in an X person’s terms.” But “man” is singular, and there is no article, so the parser stays quiet and the signals do not deflect.
Last edited by kem (2007-12-21 00:00:26)
I would expect that in standard North American pronunication, the a in ”+man” and the e in ”+men” should both be reduced to a schwa—which means that “layman” and “laymen” would be identical. Online dictionaries are little help here because few nonspecialized dicts give the pronunciation for plurals. But the one pronouncing dictionary for standard American English that I’ve been able to find online —The Carnegie Mellon University Pronouncing Dictionary—bears out my expectation. They use a clunky 1990s-computer-programming approach to transcribing the sounds, but you can see that the results for both words are identical:
L EY M AH N .
L EY M AH N .
That “AH” is just their conventional symbol for the schwa. And I did check to make sure that this dictionary disambiguates singulars from plurals.
Of course, different dialects may handle this differently, and in most dialects we have the option of a “high-register” pronunciation that substitutes an “etymological” vowel for the schwa if we’re trying to be formal or particularly unambiguous or what have you. But in standard, everyday pronunciation, “layman” and “laymen” are essentially identical.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2007-12-19 20:15:40)
An interesting tool. Thanks for pointing it out, Patrick.
Before we accept the vocalizations of this tool as a standard, we must ask “whose pronunciation is it using?” I tried submitting a few words. My guess is that it is using some form of northern and eastern American English as the standard.
It would be less likely, I grant, that someone with this accent would commit the “Lehman’s terms” error. In fact, it may be impossible. Did you notice how the Carnegie tool pronounces “Lehman?” The program says that the pronunciation is “LEE-muhn.” If that is really the case in its reference dialect, a speaker of this dialect would never wander from the word “layman” to a person named “Lehman.”
I also noticed that when you feed the Carnegie software the words “pin” and “pen,” it gives two different pronunciations. Which proves that its dialect doesn’t represent my Midwest version of American standard. In sum, then, I’m still inclined to think that a large swath of American English speakers find “layman” and “laymen” eminently distinguishable.
American English is, of course, just a small segment of the eggcorn-generating Anglophone world. To broaden the coverage a little, I called up a friend who is a British actor and asked her to pronounce these two words. In her workaday dialect (what we call “Oxford English”), the two words have quite different vocalizations. In fact, she was surprised that any dialect, North American or British, would confuse these two. I don’t think she has fully come to terms with what the colonies have done to her mother tongue.
OK, I think my head is gonna explode.
I thought I was safe, and there’s Pat: schwa, disambiguating singulars, high-register, etc.
I used “almost” (and Pat uses “essentially”) bcs there are people like Kem and me who DO differentiate the “man” from the “men,” but we are few and far between (and most of us from the Midwest?)
Kem, you and I might differentiate, but when people are speaking fast, and casually, are they are careful? The subtle difference between “men” and “man” can be easiliy lost. Throw in an accent or two or eight, and that’s why Pat & I used “identical/identically.”
They really are “almost identical.”
I’m in the throes of final-grading at the moment, so no long posts from me. But I did stop into the college library today and check a couple of (admittedly oldish—1960s, 1970s) pronouncing dictionaries, one from the US, one from the UK. In both cases, the pronunciation of the singular and plural forms were identical. And these weren’t flybynight dictionaries: I used Daniel Jones’ 1963 dict. for the UK, and Kenyon and Knott for the US, both standard if now-graying texts. (Nothing else was on the shelves; I’d like to look at Daniel Jones’ revised version, or at J. C. Wells or Clive Upton.) They didn’t even provide any alternative pronunciations; those words are simply homophones for most speakers on both sides of the Big Water.
It feels kinda weird to me to argue about this in a public forum. The reduction of most unstressed vowels to a schwa (that “uh” sound at the beginning of “About” or in the middle of “battEry” or at the end of “comA”) in two-syllable words in both UK and US English is generally so well-documented and regular—and so non-controversial a topic in most cases—that it feels like we’re arguing about what the capital of California is, or at least what the name of Neil Young’s first solo album is.
Pin/pen merger (where “men” is pronounced like “min,” and “pen” like “pin”) is considered a “non-standard” feature in NAm English, and you wouldn’t want a standard pronouncing dictionary to start giving you “pin” as the pronunciation of “pen.” The fact that the CMUPD didn’t have that pronunciation is a GOOD sign, not a bad one. (You won’t find it in Merriam Webster, either—for the same reasons.) And while there are plenty of Midwesterners (like Kem) and Westerners (like me) who have the pin/pen merger, we’re not typical speakers of our respective dialects. In the US, p/pm is usually associated with Southern English (notwithstanding various small pockets elsewhere).
I have no idea how most people surnamed “Lehman” pronounce their name. But when the San Francisco radio station mentions “Lehman Brothers,” they say “Lee-man”—just like the CMUPD. Also, the pronunciation of surnames is very often not so strongly dialect-bound. Members of my own immediate family say our surname differently even though we all grew up in the same house; many families, like mine, vacillate between an “original” version and an “American” version of their surnames. It’s usually more a matter of family/individual choice and convenience than geography.
Okay, so this is still long. I just hope there’s less head-exploding jargon this time.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2007-12-21 17:37:40)
Again, you are a gold mine of language resources, Patrick. I wouldn’t have known where to look for official information of this sort. Thanks for taking time to consult these books.
Not to quibble (well, maybe a little), but does it matter what the official documents say about the pronunciation? For someone to be led down the garden path of eggcornicity and coin the phrase “in Lehman’s terms,” all that has to happen is (1) for a person to think that “LAY-muhn” is a reasonable surname, and (2) for the same person to be so unfamiliar with the term “layman” (which must also include the inability to parse the “man” syllable out of “layman”) that he/she feels some other term must be substituted for “layman.”
With respect to the first point, I think we can assume that a lot of people know at least one “LAY-muhn.” In 1990, for example, only about a thousand surnames were more common than Lehman in the U.S. About one-one hundredth of one percent of the people in the U. S. had that surname, suggesting that there were about 30,000 Lehman-surnamed people (“Lehmann,” by the way, occurs at about a third of the “Lehman” frequency). Thousands of these Lehman(n)s must be Mennonites, and I know from experience that all of them, or nearly all of them, pronounce it “LAY-muhn.”
With respect to the second point, we require some significant overlap between people who (1) pronounce “layman” and “laymen” differently (and therefore would be primed to hear a surname in a phrase with an anarthrous noun) and who (2) do not know what the word “layman” means but have heard the phrase “in layman’s terms” spoken. Applying a little math on some conservative nominal numbers tells me that there must be over a half million people in the U. S. who fit this bill. Chances are, then, that some five or ten thousand of these vocabulary challenged people actually know a Lehman with a surname pronounced “LAY-muhn.” That’s a big Petri dish for culturing the eggcorn “in Lehman’s terms.”
How do you pronounce your last name?
Last edited by kem (2007-12-26 14:49:58)