Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I’m just new here, and am not entirely sure I know what differentiates an eggcorn from other errors. Two that I see repeated on our local news (Regina, SK, Canada), are:
meridian for median: “The car ended up in the meridian after striking the truck.”
rendering for rending: “It was a heart rendering experience for the couple.”
I think the latter is probably an eggcorn, but I’m less sure about the former.
I think they’re both eggcorns, and good ones. As I understand it, an eggcorn involves folk etymology—the process that turned the “Purgatoire” River in Texas into the “Picketwire.” Something ill-understood is changed into something more familiar, that seems to make sense. “Heartrendering” is a natural substitute for “heartrending.” The “rend” in “heartrending” is a linguistic fossil, because the word “rend” for “tear” in English has gone clean out of use. “Rendering” is a more everyday substitute. I’ve often heard this one, and it always makes me laugh, because to me as a small child, “rendering” was something my mother did to chicken fat.
“Meridian” for “median” is odd, because “meridian” is certainly the rarer word. I suspect that relatively few people could tell you that “a.m.” is short for ante-meridian, for example. Maybe the announcer has a vague idea that a “meridian” is a line and a “median” is a number?
More likely this is an example of the opposite of folk etymology—hypercorrection. That’s what happens when a grammatical principle or rule, which probably makes no sense in the first place, is half-assimilated. If “you and me went to the store” is wrong, then “between you and me” must be wrong too. If “You did good” is wrong, then so is “you went slow.” On the level of vocabulary, there’s an uneasy feeling that plain language is inelegant. The cure is usually to add syllables, which may account for “meridian.” Cf. “on a daily basis,” brought to us by people who think that “every day” is too everyday.
I wonder if meridian is really rarer. In Saskatchewan, every land location ends with something like W2, usually spoken as “West of the second”, which in turn stands for “West of the 2nd meridian”.I’m not at all sure where the 2nd meridian is, but my land location tells me I’m west of it.
I would add that even fewer people know that AM is “ante-meridiem” :-)
Thanks for the comments.
“Non carpe meridiem”—don’t carp at my mistakes’1
A perfect illustration of a well-known law—pontificate about language issues, and you (that is, me) will show yourself up with an embarrassing error.
A special case of the rule: if you pontificate about eggcorns, you will commit one. “Ante-meridian” is definitely an eggcorn-
a semantic reshaping based on a false etymology (isn’t that a better definition? I’m getting there.) Unfortunately, it’s not a funny eggcorn. As the offender, though, I do know exactly how I came to commit it-no speculation needed. For an astronomer (and astronomy is my other obsession), “the meridian,” without qualification, is the north-south line in the sky. The sun arrives at the meridian at noon. The morning is therefore “before the meridian. . . ”
The making of a mistake you are pointing out in someone else’s posting is known as “Skitt’s Law” over on alt.usage.english, a delightful newsgroup where I am constantly learning something new.
I too, am an amateur astronomer. I am a member of the RASC (Royal Astronomical Society of Canada), and have a 10” Dobsonian. I am blessed with VERY dark skies and low traffic volume on the road in front of my farm.