Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
From the NY Times comments to an article about drone strikes 2/08/2013:
Even if John Brennan’s nomination were approved, he would have to recalibrate the advantage of drone strikes as new CIA director. Now the genius is out of the bottle, this drone programme will be under more scrutiny.
I don’t think this is a joke. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s an eggcorn, but I think so. The genius does not seem to refer to a person, but rather the drone program itself or knowledge of its existence. There are other hits for “the genius is out of the bottle”, but I went looking for those that would be hidden in speech: the genius out of the bottle. Here’s a sample of what I found. The first hit uses the phrase twice, and seems to be saying, first, “Please explain yourself. Let your light out from under a bushel”. Second, “hide my light under a bushel”.
“I can not believe the American people believe that a man lost a marriage and political career by holding sex with an exotic woman.” er..how do you “hold” sex with an exotic woman. pray let the genius out of the bottle.
[later] Unfortunately, my spanish is not too good but my mandarin, hindi and zulu are excellent. I only use them when I go to a chinese/hindi/zulu website to yell at them about how superior our culture is. I prefer to keep my genius in my bottle.
The following hit is the best.
“Obama in court” is big big news. By Thursady this will be out of control, the genius out of the bottle, Pandora’s Box opened. By the trial’s time I think new people in the insider secrecy will come forth.
The next one makes me wonder whether genes have become a more familiar concept than genies for some. Or maybe it’s a typo.
Last edited by David Bird (2013-02-09 01:18:02)
[genie] 1650s, “tutelary spirit,” from French génie, from Latin genius (see genius); used in French translation of “Arabian Nights” to render Arabic jinni, singular of jinn, which it accidentally resembled, and attested in English with this sense from 1748.
So in a way, this usage is undoing the etymological shifts and restoring the original form of the word. Something eggcornish in seeing génie in jinni , however.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
Thanks, David—fascinating. I think the governing thing would be if the speaker (or writer) means something has got out that can’t be retrieved or put back (that’s the sense of the phrase as I have always understood it). Th eone about the gene in the bottle is meaningless to me. And I love it that you may have discovered an eggcorn from long ago. There must be many, many more—Latin words used by the learned misheard by the unlearned etc.—I’m half-remembering a few in Shakespeare—new worlds to conquer.
DT, with what you’ve posted, here’s what I think can be pieced together. There are four words (from four languages) whose history was irremediably tangled hundreds of years before we ever heard them: jinni, genie, genius and ingenious. Your post shows that the French applied the Latin genius in its guise in their language as génie, to eggcornify jinni. Génie in French still means “genius” but it’s also used for what we call “engineering”. A genie in French is now a jinn or djinn as well as a génie. Engineering is not etymological kin to genius nor to genies. An engineer in Lyons is an ingénieur. The OED hints that the meanings of “genius” and “ingenious”, the latter being related to engines and engineering, grew together centuries ago due to confusion based on the eggcorn mechanism. It’s all so beautifully shape-shifting and these are the perfect words for that to happen to.