Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
We typically use “acorn” to mean the standard phrase that gets reshaped through eggcorning. No one’s sure who first came up with that, but I found an early instance in an intriguing blog post on Hebrew eggcorns (“Eggcorns and Belial”)—scroll down to Jan 29, 2005: http://ralphriver.blogspot.com/2005_01_01_archive.html
The relevant section:
In this case, we really don’t know what is the acorn and what is the eggcorn. My guess is that any etymology that relies on compounding *beli with something else is wrong, since compounding, as a derivational process, is rare to non-existent in Biblical Hebrew. Still … from small eggcorns great oaks sometimes grow.
I suspect that Kem at least would find the rest of the post interesting. And the blog gets extra points for being entitled “Ralph the Sacred River.”
Last edited by patschwieterman (2010-09-22 00:51:46)
Yes, I’ve read this fellow’s blog before. He gets high marks on my scorecard for five years of intelligent blogging.
We tend to think of eggcorns as events that could occur in any language, but the eggcorn phenomenon may be more connected to English than we imagine. English puts us at the right distance to notice them and think them worth noticing. Would any Semitic language community have coined the term on its own? Word play is so intrinsic to some language communities that events resembling what we call eggcorns may not stand out enough to deserve lexical recognition.
We tend to think of eggcorns as events that could occur in any language, but the eggcorn phenomenon may be more connected to English than we imagine.
Wasn’t there a brief exchange on this topic somewhere on the forum a few years ago? I think so, but I can’t think of where it might be if I’m right.
In any case, I think trying to measure the “fitness” of different languages (and their cultures) as producers of eggcorns is an interesting idea, but I can’t think about the topic long before I’m forced to concede that I just don’t know enough. Outside of a bit of casual study of Finnish and Indonesian I’ve never really spent much quality time with a non-IE language (like, for instance, Hebrew), so my brain is just too stuck in IE patterns to really allow me to think about how “reshaping” would look outside languages related to my native tongue.
But it’s not really clear to me that English should have any particular advantage in that regard over its neighbor languages. English has some aspects that might help in eggcornification. Most obviously, we blur word boundaries in speech (to some degree, at least), so that the end of one word runs into the beginning of another. That certainly helps drive some reshapings that are based on “cutting” errors. I’d imagine we Anglophones commit that sort of error more often than German speakers, since standard German tends to be tidier about word boundaries. (But of course French and Icelandic and other languages do that at least as often as English.) And the fact that in English the same form of a word can be noun, verb, adjective or even adverb simultaneously may allow some shifts of meaning that would be harder to do in other tongues.
But then again, we’ve got fewer grammatical and derivational suffixes than many other languages, and in some cases (like perhaps the case of Hebrew “Ishah” cited in the above blog), a derivational ending can look like the the end of the root of another word, enabling a type of eggcornical reshaping that would probably be less common in English.
And then you come to what you might call the “style” of lexical practice in one language or another. As you point out, a tendency toward punning might have an influence on eggcornification. But I wonder how you’d measure that. And can we be sure that such a tendency would only have a dampening effect? Isn’t it possible that punning if it becomes habit might have a subconscious effect on word choice, at least in the quick give and take of speech? Wild speculation, but I guess my point is that it seems like it would be hard to anchor this kind of speculation in something measurable.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2010-09-23 00:44:19)
I’ve been terse to the precipice of ambiguity again. Got to learn to expand, expand.
I wasn’t meaning to say that some languages have more or fewer of what we would call eggcorns (The mind at the prospect of prospect of ranking languages on this scale.). What I was trying to say was that the warp and weft of English encourages us to notice them when they happen. Similar to the way a person with good hearing in the upper pitch ranges will hear birdsongs that others of us miss. English attaches to eggcorns an unnaturalness and a humor that makes them stand out.