Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
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 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:
: “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.”
: “London has a stirring reputation as the culture capital of the world.”
: “While stamp collecting has never enjoyed a particularly glamorous or stirring reputation, aficionados are said to number in the millions,”
: “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)
Wow! I would just have thought that these writers meant “stirring”. I can see, though, that these really are eggcorns.