Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
“Couch,” derived from the Latin “collocare” (“con” + “locare,” to set together with), continues to be a popular English noun/adjective. The verb “to couch,” however, is not so popular. One of its meanings, the sense of concealing (e.g., “She couched herself in the woods to spy on passers-by.”), still puts in the odd appearance, but most of time the verb sleeps the torpid sleep of the nearly departed. With one major exception: English speakers still employ the idiom “couch X in terms of/as Y” with some frequency. The idiom describes a translation of ideas/intentions (X) into words (Y), as in the sentence “He couched his demands in polite phrases.”
The non-idiomatic form of the verb “couch” transforms itself into the Teutonic “crouch” in the vocabularies of some speakers. No surprise here–we often crouch to couch. It’s difficult, though, to cite a definitive example of this eggcorn. Those who say they crouch in the woods to spy may not be mangling “couch”–they may really be crouching. More spottable and more surprising is the replacement of “couch” with “crouch” in its idiomatic context (i.e., “to crouch X in terms of Y”). Here are three of the dozens of examples on the web:
: “The question to abrahamic theists was crouched in terms a theist would understand, and have their own definitions.”
: “Scientific understanding is crouched in terms of current explanation not a final, correct explanation.”
[not, I assume, for the advanced study of English idioms]: “What is the relation between conceptualisations of the human – whether crouched in terms of capacities for reasoned discourse or a susceptibility to being affected that follows from finite embodiment – and processes of dehumanisation? ”
The notion of “concealment behind” shared by “couch” and “crouch” serves as a bridge to make this slip an eggcorn, I think.
There are also several examples of “coax” inserting itself into the “couch” idiom:
: “While the English discretion is coaxed in terms of ‘fairness of the proceedings’, and the Canadian in terms of ‘the impact of admission on the administration of justice’, in applying the law, Canadian judges treat fairness to the accused as paramount”
: “The cold war is over—the radical right follows no constitution but their own agenda (of course coaxed in terms of ‘our good, ‘our welfare’ etc) and have no ethical concern crushing anything that prevents that agenda’s fulfillment ”
: “Explanations for their origins are generally not coaxed in terms of specific events of natural history, but in terms of processes, patterns, relational structures that we may infer, or rather project, onto the patterning that we see.”
In scores of places on the web “coach” appears as a replacement for “couch” in the idiom “couch X in terms of Y.” Most of the examples I can find seem to be from sources whose authors may speak English as a second language:
: “Much of this discussion has been coached in terms of `modernism’ and `post-modernism’, ”
: “At another level, the debate is often coached in terms of what is “correct” and what is “incorrect.””
: “The words the West, specifically, the Anglo-West uses are coached in terms of human rights, prosperity and freedom,”
Couch as concealing, that’s new to me. Was that part of the original sense of “couched in terms of”, which has now been lost?
Here are some surprisingly common simblings. It’s hard to imagine that these are mondegreens; the sound is too different. Visual eggcorns? Pat’s soft-tissue acid? Cached would also be concealed; cashed, translated, I think, or literally realized.
The other Luther rolls in grave
The Enlightenment has demanded that theology must ultimately be about the self within its concrete embeddedness, undergoing various existential and temporal trials and empowerments. Instead of referring to God, theological statements must finally be cached in terms of the horizon of human experience.
You rarely address peoples arguments on their merits alone, your arguments are always cached in terms of your own presumed moral superiority
Socialism: always cached in terms of the workers’ struggle against the elite.
What is intelligence?
this use is best cashed in terms of aptitude.
Last edited by David Bird (2010-08-25 09:13:21)
“Cached.” Hadn’t thought of that one. “Catch(ed) in terms of” also . Almost seems like a Big Fuzzy Spot is coming into (going out of?) focus. The BFS would include “couch,” “cache,” “catch,” “coax” and “crouch.”
The OED details about 20 meanings for the verb “couch,” almost all of them obsolete or technical. The one I’m thinking about is “To lay in concealment (more or less); to hide, conceal; refl. and pass. to lie hidden, to lurk.” The OED marks it as archaic, but I think it may have more currency than “archaic” implies. Besides the reflexive I mentioned (“couched herself”), which I’m fairly certain I’ve heard/read in the wild, there is also the phrase “couched within” that seems to draw on the concealment sense of “couch.” COCA has ten citations for it, all since 1990.
My guess would be that “couch in terms of” either derives from or is influenced by the concealment sense of “couch.”
Last edited by kem (2010-12-18 16:17:39)
Collocare to couch. Transcription misreading, ll to u?
Edit: Nice theory, but no. Collocare—> colcare—> colchier—> coucher, more or less.
Last edited by David Bird (2010-08-26 11:00:31)
l’s and w/u/o sounds have a history of interchanging; especially if the l is a ‘dark’ l like the one in my English. I often counsel Spanish speakers to use an unstressed o instead of an l to sound more natural—e.g. say [ˈɹuo] for rule. I remember one of my professors (Richard Rhodes) referring to a similar phonological process in Hungarian as a “Dewæterawization Ruo”.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
I have a particular liking for the eggcorn alteration of “A couched in terms of B” to “A coaxed in terms of B.” A first blush, a seemingly common word “couch” is being replaced by a less common word “coax”—which goes against the grain of most eggcorns—but in reality the “couch” intended is very different from the furniture sense. So, some who hear “couch” might be having trouble with the furniture imagery … enough for them to change it to “coax.”
Last edited by jorkel (2010-08-28 23:47:02)