Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Obliverate must be a blend of “obliterate” and “oblivion”: to obliterate to oblivion. I don’t think oblivious works its way in there. I heard this one on the radio, in a piece about forensic examination of skulls. The sutures between skull plates obliverate with age, apparently.
A great, find – it’s so elegant and convincing at once.
Looking around at the etymology of “obliterate,” I realized that there might be a bit of eggcornishness in the word’s origins. Usually, it’s listed has having been a combination of the Latin prefix “ob” plus “littera.” The explanations for the combo don’t seem to be all that clear to me, but the basic idea is that the letters of a word are getting expunged or written over. The OED goes for this general idea.
But other dictionaries start adding other possibilities. The AHD throws in the idea that “oblitus,” the past participle of the Latin word for “to forget” (which is in turn the root for “oblivion”) might be exerting some influence:
n oblittera-re, oblittera-t-, to erase, from ob littera-s (scri-bere), (to write) over letters (ob, over; see ob- + littera-s, accusative pl. of littera, letter) and from obli-tus, past participle of obli-vi-sci-, to forget; see oblivion.
Even if this is accurate, I don’t think it’s in any way a violation of our “etymological rule” because the connection is just too submerged to be visible to the average speaker.
The Century Dictionary brings up yet another possible “influence.” The past participle of another Latin word – “oblinere,” “to blot out” – is also “oblitus”:
from Latin obliteratus, oblitteratus, past participle of obliterare, oblitterare (later Italian obliterare = Spanish obliterar = Portuguese oblitterar = French oblitérer), erase, blot out (a writing), blot out of remembrance (cf. oblinere, past participle oblitus, erase, blot out), from ob, over, + litera, littera, a letter: see letter.
So we may (or may not) have all sorts of layers of cross-influence at work here.
Incidentally, the etymologies above are courtesy of the Wordnik.com site, which has just started to impinge on my consciousness in the last few months. I still don’t feel I completely understand the site and the various lexical tools it offers, but I got a lot more interested when I realized that Erin McKean (Verbatim quarterley, etc.) and Grant Barrett (Double-Tongued Dictionary guy) are two of the main forces behind it.