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#1 2009-03-25 13:06:44

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

A “bad actor” is one who behaves badly, so “act” is understood in the sense of behavior. (I.e., a “bad actor” is one who does bad acts, so to speak). But “actor” is frequently understood in the sense of a performer (as in a movie). This sets up an interesting situation where an eggcorn may emerge. The alternate (eggcorn) interpretation of “bad actor” is someone akin to a bad liar. That is, not only is the person “acting” or “faking” with his behavior, but he isn’t particularly good at it.

I haven’t gone hunting for examples of this. The distinction may require close scrutiny to discern. But I just wanted to toss it out for discussion.

Last edited by jorkel (2009-03-25 13:08:15)

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#2 2009-03-25 14:26:19

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

The second thought I had on this is that both constructions are legitimate in their own right—even if one is slightly more idiomatic than the other. Perhaps the stealth eggcorn comes into play when the utterer means one thing and the listener understands the other.

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#3 2009-03-26 01:29:17

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Cotati, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 1295

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

jorkel wrote:

A “bad actor” is one who behaves badly, so “act” is understood in the sense of behavior. (I.e., a “bad actor” is one who does bad acts, so to speak).

Yeah, my Dad uses “bad actor” in that sense all the time, but I’ve never used the term myself, simply because it’s so likely to be (mis)interpreted as the other meaning.

But I’m not sure I want to stretch the meaning of “eggcorn” to include different meanings of the same word when said word is pronounced and understood properly, even if that proper understanding isn’t the same proper understanding intended by the speaker. According to my dictionary, those two meanings of “actor” are in fact two meanings of the same word, not two different words spelled and pronounced the same, although the theatrical meaning didn’t come into usage until the 16th century, long after the other meaning. And even qualifying the term “eggcorn” with terms like “stealth” or “hidden” doesn’t quite quell my queasiness at the prospect of stretching the eggcorn concept that much, although I don’t object to others going that route.

Dixon

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#4 2009-03-26 09:16:27

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

Thanks for your input Dixon. My one hope for “stealth eggcorns” is that they eventually get modified to remove the veil. There was a post long ago about “play fast and loose.” The expression became an eggcorn when someone uttered “play faster and looser.” But, why do we have to wait for the inflection when the image modification is already there?

“Play faster and looser” by jimshlif Contribute! 2 2007-04-03 17:33:54 by booboo

Dixon also wrote:

But I’m not sure I want to stretch the meaning of “eggcorn” to include different meanings of the same word when said word is pronounced and understood properly, even if that proper understanding isn’t the same proper understanding intended by the speaker.

I pondered that before, and I generally somewhat maybe agree. But, I guess this observation is what lead me to conclude that if one meaning is part of an idiomatic usage, then the other meaning (assigned to the idiom) has a strong basis for being classified as an eggcorn.

Stated differently: Not all idioms are widely understood, but it is quite likely that the sequence of words that make up an idiom are widely recognized. If one is using that widely-used sequence of words to mean something other than it’s idiomatic usage, then I suspect the dynamics of eggcorn generation are at play.

I would also point out that most eggcorns are developed as verbal utterances—with no knowledge of the spelling involved. One of my favorite eggcorns “crap chute” is a homophone of “crap shoot” so the two words (chute, shoot) might just as well have been spelled the same way… After all, (crap, crap) are spelled the same way, but mean two completely different things.

Crap Chute for Crap Shoot by GregBowden Contribute! 1 2006-10-31 16:07:32 by jorkel

Last edited by jorkel (2009-03-26 09:54:08)

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#5 2009-03-26 10:03:21

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2171
Website

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

The whole issue of when you have one word and when you have two lies behind this problem. Very small changes accumulate over time (often centuries of time) until you have meanings so different that only pedants (like us here) consider them the same thing. To put it another way, when you can pun and play around with meanings supposedly of the same word, they are effectively different words to you.
.
Yes, in some sense actor ‘one who performs an action’ and actor ‘one who acts in a dramatic production’ are “the same word”. So are star ‘celestial luminary’ and star ‘leading actor in a drama_ . I remember from years ago a dumb joke about a drama production announced at an insane asylum, and one of the patients insisting he was the star. Another says to him, “C’mon, you aren’t serious!”, to which he replies, “Of course not, I’m Betelgeuse.” Effectively, we’re dealing with separate words pronounced star .
.
“Bad actor” for me provides the context for very exactly parallel wordplay.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#6 2009-03-26 10:10:30

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

If “actor” in the idiomatic meaning of “bad actor” had been spelled “acter,” we probably wouldn’t question whether the alternate meaning were an eggcorn. But, “one who commits acts” is still spelled like “actor.”

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#7 2009-03-26 10:42:40

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-11
Posts: 2171
Website

Re: Bad Actor -- stealth eggcorn?

Yes, spelling has a huge (disproportionate) effect in our culture.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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