Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I have heard this one on the radio recently. To apply a principle “Across the piste” is to apply it over the whole range of situations under discussion as opposed to a specific set of circumstances. A piste is a track so this phrase conjures the image of placing a barrier across the track that cannot be circumvented. “Across the piece” seems to be used by people who do not know the word piste.
In a year of reading this forum, I can’t remember another instance in which the original version of a reanalyzed phrase was an idiom I had never heard of; “across the piste” is a completely new one on me. It gets 294 raw hits on Google right now—pretty low for the standard version of a phrase. And while the OED has an article on “piste”—it’s a horse’s track, a rectangular area designated for fencing, or a slope marked off for skiing or tobagganing—it has no mention of this figurative usage.
Checking books.google.com, I find 14 hits, but the earliest doesn’t appear until 1999. That makes me think that this might be one of a very large group of business-oriented phrases that only achieved wide currency during the dotcom boom of the late 1990s. Some other examples are “think outside the box,” “bleeding edge” (which we’ve discussed elsewhere on this forum), “grow your business,” “bluesky thinking,” etc. A number of these were probably floating around in specialized corners of the Anglosphere long before 1998, but members of the general public only became aware of them when they started taking a keen interest in new technologies and the cultures that produce them. Has anyone on Language Log written on these idioms and what they say about the interactions of business and language innovation? Seems like a natural.
What’s really remarkable here is that “across the piste” has already produced an eggcorn when it hasn’t even passed the 300 mark on Google. I think that may be a new record. Or sumpn.
I am very grateful to see this one flagged up by someone else! I was beginning to think I was imagining it, and that I had enshrined ‘across the piste’ as the correct version in my own mind simply because I had heard it first. I haven’t yet seen it in print, but I hear ‘across the piece’ a lot at work – which would lend credence to the idea that it’s primarily a business phrase. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes ‘piece’ more intelligible, other than it is simply a much more common word and has an air of generality about it, reinforcing the idea of a principle in force in all situations.
This might be a British expression. I had never heard it either. (I’m American.) I looked at a few web sites that I found with Google, and those that were not literally about sports such as fencing, or about places where French is spoken, were British.
Maybe it would be a good idea if people who post messages here would identify where (in what country) they heard each new item. We probably have contributors from all over the world. (If we don’t, we will!)
Jim, I think you’re absolutely right about the need for more geographical specificity. It’s really hard to do when people are just dealing with citations from the Web; .com addresses can be from anywhere, and even co.uk, etc. addresses don’t guarantee a geographical origin.
But your comment made me go to the “User list” page (there’s a button for it at the top of this page), and change my “personal” attributes so that “California” comes up whenever I post. I appreciate, of course, that people might be wary of giving away their location, and this is strictly optional. But even just a national designation might help other posters decide what dialects, etc. are playing into a person’s comments.
Thanks for the suggestion, Pat. I didn’t even know that was possible. I’ve now changed my profile, too.
Someone’s put it in writing for me! This is an extract from an email that dropped in my inbox this afternoon. Again, a work/business context, and in the UK. Please, anyone, put my mind at rest that this is not the original version – any hint of a derivation out there?
“If you find individual circumstances where you have a better price than from the above for an item then you need to discuss this with the relevant contact. We will undertake independent rigorous evaluations of a basket of consumables on a six-monthly basis to ascertain that across the piece, value for money is delivered.”
The definition given for “across the piste” sounds a lot like the usage of “across the board”.
Since ‘across the board’ is claimed to have its origins in horse racing, and a race track is piste in French, I thought there might be some connection. But looking into it a little more, the bet called “across the board” (the horse you pick has to come in first, second or third) is called “Simple Placé” in french.
Apparently the british equivalent of this bet is an ‘each way’ bet. Is the expression “across the board” used at all in the UK?