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Chris -- 2011-03-08

#1 2013-12-15 14:47:58

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2087

calling birds << colley birds

Christmas tunes are playing in the background from a web station tuned in on our kitchen radio. Makes me think about Christmas eggcorns. We’ve had a few of them: Christmas activity scene, mold wine, Tipsy Eve, pointsetter plants, and a variety of Christmas carol mondegreens.

One that we can add this year—I’m surprised that it has not been mentioned here before—is the mondegreen eggcorn “calling birds” from the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The song became popular in English at the end of the 1700s. Throughout the nineteenth century, the gift on the fourth day was a “colley bird.” “Colley/colly/collie” is an old term for black (cf. “colliery”), so these were probably blackbirds. Even in the nineteenth century, however, “colley bird” was archaic, so it seems likely that singers were already substituting “calling” for “colley” long before it appeared in print in the early twentieth century.

If we accept the theory that the first seven gifts were all birds that might be prepared for a feast, then the fifth gift, five golden rings, may have referred to a ring-necked pheasant or a goldfinch. This would make “rings”—almost always imaged as finger rings—a hidden eggcorn.

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