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Chris -- 2011-03-08

#1 2011-01-24 22:17:55

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2145

idol, idyll, ideal, idle

I came across another big fuzzy spot: the quartet “idol, idyll, idle, ideal.” These four words, two nouns (“idol, idyll”) and two adjectives (“idle, ideal”), seem share a slice of meaning. In the sentence “An idle afternoon with my idol is an ideal idyll,” we can see all four words pointing in the direction of this shared meaning, which we might describe, with a bit of generalization, as “a cherished and desirable thing/event.”1

Three of the words (“idol, idyll, ideal”) derive ultimately from an ancient Greek term that has been filtered through Latin. By the time the three words emerge from late Latin they are independent terms, so most speakers of modern English are probably unaware of their shared history. The fourth word of the quartet (“idle”) is good Anglo-Saxon (Twenty-five percent Germanic in this BFS is an appropriate number: the percentage of Germanic words in a modern English Dictionary is about the same.).

In four words there are twelve ordered pairs. I suspect that most of the twelve pairs represent substitutions that have been made at one time or another (i.e., idol >> idyll, idle >> idol, ideal >> idol, idyll >> idol, etc.). The pairs that are most intrinsically confused seem to be the six with “idyll.”

Here are examples of two substitutions that look like they may be eggcorns:

“Idyll” for “ideal:”

Australian paper on art topic: “It was through these objects I had attempted to escape the anxieties of childhood to create a sense of control and an idyll world, some sort of place of unspoilt happiness or beauty.”

Entry in web journal: “Acadi is idyll for representing Paris chic (clothes, accessories, and linens) but at great prices.”

“Idyll” for “idle:”

Patent application: “The system is refrigerated. The system is idyll for up to 11 hours daily. ”

Comment on Nevada newspaper article: “you get a feel for the lunacy of what we are doing to serve up ourselves for the idyll-rich country-club crowd of America.”

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1 “Idle” can also be a verb, permitting a legal English sentence “Idylls idle ideal idol” (pronounced, depending on your accent, AY-duls AY-dul AY-deel AY-dul [cough] [cough]) with the meaning “Pastoral descriptions make prefect heros take a break.”

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