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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2011-04-12 09:16:08

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2589

grapple << grasp, grabble, big fuzzy spot

This week, at a gathering around one of the large tables in our favorite Chinese restaurant, I heard the fellow next to me say that he “was trying to grapple that idea.” I think he meant to say “grasp.” Presumably replacing “grasp” with “grapple,” when “grasp” means to comprehend, constitutes an eggcorn, if we agree that the sounds of the two words are similar and that “grapple” does not normally occur as a transitive verb in contexts that relate to cognition.

Other people make the same error, as we see from these examples:

Comment on a political blog: “[S]ome of the idiots who voted Bush twice can’t seem to grapple that getting out, does not mean dropping the guns and running for the exits.”

Post on a religion forum: “It’s kind of hard to grapple that. I’m still kind of trying to wrap my mind around that”

Australian sports forum: “Alas, Peter Costello struggles to grapple that concept.”

It seems likely that the figurative use of grapple in the intransitive phrase “grapple with a concept” licenses the substitution of the transitive “grapple” for “grasp.”

But the situation is more complex (Isn’t it always?). We have a group of at least five overlapping, similar-sounding verbs that can, in a pinch, do duty for each other. Unlike the word clusters in some other Big Fuzzy Spots noted on this forum, the thespian troup of “grasp,” “grope,” “grip,” “grab,” and “grapple” trace back to another dry ice mist of interrelated terms in the Teutonic backstage of modern English. The Germanic ancestors of the five words seem to be connected to an old word for “hook.”

These five terms have been jostling each other for a long time. The OED notes that an almost obsolete use of “grapple” (“their hands grappled to their swords”) was probably influenced by “grope.” “Grab,” the same dictionary goes on to say, may be “an onomatopoeic modification of the root of grip.” There’s also plenty of evidence that modern speakers can’t keep the terms sorted. Besides the “grapple/grasp” confusion above, we note these switches:

(1) Many of these examples of “grabbed around for” are replacements for “groped around for.”

(2) Here are some people that think the phrase is “keep a firm grip on” is “keep a firm grab on.”

(3) “Grab” and “grapple” blend as “grabble” in the idiom “grabble with.” Examples here.

Last edited by kem (2011-04-12 15:27:06)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2011-04-14 19:46:22

From: Ohio
Registered: 2007-06-07
Posts: 171

Re: grapple << grasp, grabble, big fuzzy spot

I clearly grapple people using the word to mean “get hold of, as with a large hook”, which is what “grasp” means (but not usually so dramatically), so I claim that this is not an eggcorn at all, but just a proper, if unusual, use of a word. (My tongue is in the vicinity of my cheek, but not directly in it)


“I always wanted to be somebody. I should have been more specific.” – Lily Tomlin



#3 2011-04-14 21:48:00

From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 1101

Re: grapple << grasp, grabble, big fuzzy spot

I wonder if a big fuzzy spot lends itself to blends.

Kenyans gripple with simmering nail crisis
Library listing

You will need: Great phone manner Hardworking & reliable A good grasb of the English lanuguage (both written & verbal)
Telemarketer opening

Don’t talk about humping! My almost 4 month old girl seems to hump anything you can especially if you try and take something away, she’ll gramp onto it and start! :oops:
Sociable female dog

the screenwriters turn to the idea of a “stage” – an idea the viewer can grasple with but isn’t what is literally true.
Anime plot discussion



#4 2011-04-14 21:50:51

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2589

Re: grapple << grasp, grabble, big fuzzy spot

not an eggcorn at all, but just a proper, if unusual, use of a word

The problem is that there is no evidence that the transitive “grapple” is used, or ever has been used, as a metaphor for getting hold of an idea. As a transitive verb “grapple” always seems to refer to something quite literal, something you might do with a grappling hook. Someone could coin the conceptual metaphor, of course. But twenty people? There are more examples out there of grappling an idea than there are brilliant coiners of metaphor.

I don’t have any investment in this, one way or the other. I would be just as pleased to be a first-hand witness to a newly-birthed meaning as to have heard an eggcorn. Just trying to figure out what I heard…

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



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