Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
A cantankerous person is someone who takes the con position on anything you say.
No wonder, then, that so many people spell the word “con-tankerous.” Thousands of web pages have this spelling. It is possible that this misspelling is purely phonetic, without semantic motivation, but I doubt it. The error “contankerous” is seven (Bing) to thirty (Google) times less frequent, for example, than the misspelling “cantankerus,” which seems about as likely a phonetic misspelling as the former. Google hit ratios suggest that the “condidate/candidate” ratio is about a tenth of a percent, while the “contankerous/cantankerous” ratio approaches five percent. Again, semantic motivation may make the difference (though I have known some candidates who would qualify as cons).
Whether or not you buy the “con” motivation, we may still be in eggcorn territory with the word “cantankerous.” Here’s what the Merriam-Webster Word of the Day writer had to say about the derivation of “cantankerous” a few months ago:
[W]e’re not absolutely sure where “cantankerous” comes from. Etymologists think it probably derived from the Middle English word “contack” (or “contek”), which meant “contention” or “strife.” Their idea is that “cantankerous” may have started out as “contackerous” but was later modified as a result of association or confusion with “rancorous” (meaning “spiteful”) and “cankerous” (which describes something that spreads corruption of the mind or spirit). Considering that a cantankerous person generally has the spite associated with “contack” and “rancor,” and the noxious and sometimes painful effects of a “canker,” that theory seems plausible. What we can say with conviction is that “cantankerous” has been used in English since at least the late 1700s.
The writer, by the way, gets most of his/her information from the OED entry for the word. The fact that “cantankerous” may have originally been “contackerous” and that it may have been spelled “contankerous” in some areas of England as late as the eighteenth century is interesting, but it probably has no bearing on modern trend toward spelling “cantankerous” with a “con.”
Last edited by kem (2009-11-10 22:54:53)
Blending with “contrary(ian)” is another reasonable explanation; in my mind compatible with and complementary to perceiving “con” in the mix.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
I love the deep-time eggcorns. Nothing to add except a googlenonce:
I defend Ry’s right to be can’tankerous
(http://thedonovan.com/archives/2009/09/ … s_f_1.html)
continuing the tradition set by don’ting challenge
Cantankerous is just one of those words begging to create an eggcorn—or at least a stealth eggcorn. For me, contankerous sounds like an adjective that might describe a contaminated tank.