Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I’ve found lots of examples of “powers-at-be” for “powers that be.” The succession of two fricatives in “power[zD]at be” makes the underlying /D/ in “that” sometimes disappear, explaining how it could become reanalyzed as “powers at be” but I believe there’s also a semantic connection. The phrase “powers-at-be” parallels other phrases in with “noun-preposition-noun” such as “woman-in-charge” or “commander-in-chief” with the exception that “be” was originally a verb and maybe is being analyzed almost as a noun here (maybe it’s assumed if you’re “at be” you’re in a state of complete control…or maybe it could be assumed to be some sort of shortening of “at being?” Not sure.). What I find interesting is that many (tho not all—only one of my examples does but there are many more which do) writers who use this eggcorn do use the hyphens between the three words as is done in the common English format “noun-preposition-noun.” This is not done in the phrase “powers that be” which I think further points to the reanalysis of the phrase on the “noun-preposition-noun” model. Another reason for this apparent reanalysis from “noun-relativizer-verb” may be that the older subjunctive use of “be” in the phrase would seem like an odd verbal form to some modern English speakers. This might encourage its reanalysis from relative “noun” + “relativizer” + “verb (subjunctive)” to follow the other English pattern “noun-preposition-noun.” Anyway, on a Google search I found many examples of “powers-at-be”:
I think DC always over-complicates its “normal” characters because at heart the powers-at-be there don’t have a feel for the thrill of a guy climbing into an airplane.
So, does it make sense to use Spring in a WebSphere environment? Should I use just Spring (if the powers at be will let me) or should (can) I use the pieces of Spring that WebSphere doesn’t have?
The dream sequence of him teaching that dance to World Leaders was priceless!!! Thank you Warner Brothers! I hope the powers at be will release The Pebbles and Bamm Bamm Show too!!!
So i was flustered. Which apparently gave the powers at be the right to get back at me by making the spring mysteriously disappear from the stand of my scooter.
What do you do when a sizable portion of your poplulation does not share the values of the powers at be?
Wow. That’s ugly. It reminds me a bit of the astonishing “be who of” for “behoove” in the Database. Not as charming but almost as weird.
Good heavens—Google returns over 21,000 raw hits for this one. I find that a bit amazing.
I also wanted to say that I thought your argument about hyphenation here was really clever and compelling—a great bit of reasoning. I think “ambassador-at-large” and “representative-at-large” might help provide part of the mental template.