Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Modern English speakers think of “quick” as a synonym for “speedy.” Until the last couple of centuries, “quick” also meant “alive.” The adjective “quick” has been used to mean both living and speedy since the days of Old English.
The demise of “quick” as a word for alive leaves us at sixes and sevens when we try to make sense of language relicts which preserve this old sense. One relict, “the quick and the dead,” still haunts Christian religious language – it makes its home and . We have a second relict in the expression “cut to the quick” (i.e., sustained an injury that reached living flesh). A third relict appears in “quickening,” the time when a mother first feels the independent motion of a fetus, when the fetus was said to come alive.
A few months ago there was that the idiom “the quick and the dead” may be an eggcorn. It’s not a regular eggcorn, of course, but it may be a hidden eggcorn. Speakers really do hear the meaning “speedy” in the phrase “the quick and the dead” – there are numerous confessions on the web, in addition to the evidence of the article cited in the Economist blog (unless the use in that article is an intentional pun).
It’s been around for a long time as an intentional pun. E.g. New York traffic divides people into two groups: the quick and the dead. Which of course doesn’t mean it can’t be a malaprop and/or eggcorn for other users.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
I like it. I’ll admit to being ignorant of the routes of quick. The Online ED makes a connection, through the PIE base * gwiwo, to bio-.
I also liked your use of relict, Kem, a word familiar to me in another context.
I like the idea that you can have a race between a quick runner and a fast runner without necessarily understanding that one is merely alive and the other is glued to the starting blocks.
relict … a word familiar to me in another context.
A couple of decades ago, when I started doing genealogical work, I came across the term “relict” in some old wills. It referred to a widow or widower (“X, a relict of Y, bequeaths…”). I believe the usage is all but extinct, even in law, but, if it had thrived, the PC movement would surely have had something to say. Too much like “derelict.”