Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
Well, do they? The Database would seem to think so. We have cue>>queue, for instance. But like lots of Database articles, this one was written in the first flush/flash of enthusiasm for the idea of eggcorns, and includes examples that I don’t find convincing. If you give me a “queue” when I should speak my line, I’m not really sure how that would make sense—so cue>>queue examples of that type don’t work for me. But saying something “on queue” in, for example, a play seems much more eggcornish to me: I envision a kind of “queue” or succession of things that have to happen before I can speak my line; when the play gets to my place in that queue of events, I speak the line I’m supposed to. So I think “on queue” works as an eggcorn, but that’s the problem: the whole phrase “on queue,” not “queue” by itself, is the eggcorn here, and “on queue” is two syllables and two words.
So are there any monosyllabic eggcorns that seem truly eggcornish but aren’t part of a well-established phrase or idiom like “on cue”? Kem and I have both pointed to aisle>><<isle in the past, but you have to make a pretty complex argument in order for that pair of substitutions to seem eggcornical. And aisle>><<isle may be an interesting/weird exception rather than an indication that eggcorns can regularly be monosyllabic.
Can anyone suggest any candidates?
We’ve had quite a number of monosyllabic eggcorns on the forum. A look through the first third of our 2010 list turns up:
arms/alms: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=4414
bans/banns: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=4537
cel/cell: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=4412
couch/crouch: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=4790
dregs/drecks: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=3105
false/faults: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=4519
Just wondering where you are going with this thought. Is there something special about monosyllabic words that affects their ability to be eggcorns?
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.
Thanks for the list, Kem—that was actually pretty helpful.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been rereading our big theoretical debates in Eggcornology from 2008, rereading many of the early LL posts on eggcorns, and looking at work in linguistics on topics related to eggcorns. I’m still trying to work out some obvious problems in the ideas I’m currently working with, so I probably won’t lay out everything till I’m more convinced that I can be coherent. But the question above was inspired by the (apparently independent) claims by A. Zwicky and David Tuggy that eggcorns are “part for part” substitutions. It turns out that in the last 15 years or so, work on “folk etymology” (FE) by linguists has made a similar claim. (And my recent reading has also convinced me that it really doesn’t make much sense to draw a distinction between “eggcorns” and at least one type of fairly well-defined FE; eggcorns are simply FEs of that type, and any serious scholarly work on eggcorns needs to take the earlier FE work into account. The thing that might make the term “eggcorn” useful even for linguists is that it distinguishes that one type of FE from a number of other things to which the label “folk etymology” is widely applied.) If these linguists (I’m including all of the above) are right, then it should be pretty hard for a monosyllabic eggcorn to exist. I wanted to see if there was any good counter-evidence. I think most of Kem’s list could be called misspellings or flounders (and of course Kem at least considers the latter eggcorns). And it’s interesting (and perhaps instructive) that most of these have their eggcornicity cast into doubt either by the original poster or by others in the thread. But cel>>cell admittedly hurts my brain a bit; it’s intriguing, and I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s a flounder or an exception to the rule.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2011-07-03 22:17:10)
It will be interesting to see what you come up with on this quest. I’ve tracked the discussions on this forum about the need for eggcorns to occur in idiomatized contexts, but I’ve never been very comfortable with the formulations we have come up with. The problem lies, I think, in the universality of interword associations. Every word carries with it preferences for partnerships with other words. When the associational preferences are strong, we call the assemblages idioms. When they are weak, we tend to overlook the subcoded preferences. But they are always there, even if they are weak, and word substitutions generate reverberations in these weak fields that make certain substitutions more appropriate than others. I’m not sure, therefore, that eggcorn substitutions can ever fail to meet the “part-for-part” criterion. Which raises in turn the obvious question of whether we can use this criterion as a way to differentiate eggcorns and flounders.
Still, we may be able to come up some acceptable scale of word association strength that serve the purpose. I tend to think things are impossible until someone does them. Then they seem obvious.
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.
You’re just talking about multi-word acorns rather than simplexes, right? At first I was puzzled until I realized that you had to be referring to phrasal eggcorns alone.
And if I understand you, then I have been having similar thoughts about flounders. There are examples where whole for whole substitution does seem to occur —but the “flounder rule” may apply too well in those instances. “Bated,” for instance, rarely occurs outside of the expression “bated breath.” Since “baited” substitutes for “bated” in “baited breath,” it therefore substitutes for the acorn nearly everywhere. So is “baited breath” a flounder because the near-universal substitution seems to be “whole for whole substitution” or an acceptable eggcorn because “baited” is part of a fixed phrase and therefore an instance of “part for part substitution”? The former contention seems to me poor grounds on which to call “baited breath” a flounder for the simple fact that “baited breath” seems to be working just like dozens or hundreds of other seemingly unambiguous eggcorns do. (Of course, one might challenge the eggcornicity of “baited breath” on semantic grounds—especially because the Database makes no attempt to offer an explicit justification—but the image of “quiet expectancy” attaching to both fishermen and people who are bating their breath might provide a reasonable defense.) And some other words occur in only a very limited set of contexts even though they aren’t tied to just one fixed phrase—it becomes even harder to figure out what “part for part” means in those cases.
Still, I’d never expect to come up with a definition of eggcorn that convincingly seemed to exclude any exception at all—outside of the “hard sciences,” few definitions work that way, and the nature of the cognitive processing of vocabulary almost guarantees that definitions concerning types of lexical items won’t work that way. I’ll settle, instead, for some principles that seem to include most of what most people can agree are eggcorns, while excluding most things that most people agree aren’t. The trick is to maximize and minimize at the right places with the smallest number of rules possible.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2011-07-07 15:00:51)