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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2011-11-30 17:35:51

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2521

stirring << sterling

The adjective “sterling,” when used figuratively, can mean sound, excellent, worthy. It was coined (yes, pun intended) from the bankable British sterling penny.

Since the figurative use of the word “sterling” appeared in the seventeenth century, it has enjoyed a sterling career. Most notable, perhaps, is its occurrence in the “sterling lad” mentioned in A. E. Housman’s sterling poem “Terrence, this is stupid [i.e.,non-sterling] stuff” (A poem that, if you have forgotten its other sterling qualities, you may remember as the source of the sterling couplet “And malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man.”)

There is a tendency to spell “sterling” as “stirling.” Does this indicate a subtle importation of the semantics of “stir?” Hard to say. The misspelling frequency doesn’t rise much above the background level of orthographical noise. The alteration of “sterling” to “stirring,” however, seems unlikely without “stir” poking its head around the corner to urge the change, saying “if something is commendable it has the power to stir feelings.”

We can most readily detect the switch in the transformations of the semifrozen idioms “sterling credentials,” “sterling reputation,” and “sterling qualities.” A few of the many examples on the web:

Ezine article on writing advice: “The way you write can have a lot of bearing about how your credibility is perceived. Even with the most stirring credentials, if your writing sucks, readers will find it hard to give you their trust.”

Article on travel site: “London has a stirring reputation as the culture capital of the world.”

Monk seal preservation site: “While stamp collecting has never enjoyed a particularly glamorous or stirring reputation, aficionados are said to number in the millions,”

Bio in one of the potted American county histories: “Mr. Roberts is a man of stirring qualities and has wrought here with energy accomplishing very much in fostering the settlement and upbuilding of Douglas county”

Last edited by kem (2011-12-01 21:43:11)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2011-12-01 15:55:54

From: Ohio
Registered: 2007-06-07
Posts: 128

Re: stirring << sterling

Wow! I would just have thought that these writers meant “stirring”. I can see, though, that these really are eggcorns.


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



#3 2011-12-01 16:44:29

David Bird
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1498

Re: stirring << sterling

Excellent one. The new image is pretty funny. The last example is too much.



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