Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
If you have been around this Forum for a while, you know that I have a soft spot for stealth-eggcorns. These are words and phrases into which speakers silently import new meanings without any changes of sound or spelling.
The name “stealth-eggcorn,” by the way, was coined on this Forum by crossword expert Joe Krozel in early 2007. A synonym, “hidden-eggcorn,” had been in informal usage since at least 2004 and was formally proposed as a category name in late 2007 by Arnold Zwicky. I use the terms interchangeably, though I do think Joe’s usage has some claim to priority. Stealth-eggcorns, though they have some of the characteristics of eggcorns, do not really fit most definitions of eggcorns. For this reason, I have taken the liberty of inserting a hyphen in the terms as a reminder. (The hyphen is a leaf from botanical tradition. When botanical names contain word parts that are no longer scientifically accurate, a hyphen reminds us of this. A Douglas Fir becomes Douglas-fir because it is not really a fir. Pepper-grass is mustard, not a grass, and so on.)
Anyway, I’ve come across two terms lately that I think may be stealth-eggcorns for many—if not most—speakers of English. One is the word “livelong,” as in “all the livelong day.” The first half of the term, which most speakers probably connect with “live” or “life,” actually comes from “lief,” a Teutonic intensifier that means “dear, beloved.” German speakers still employ their equivalent term, “lieber,” in this way. A German speaker might refer to “den lieben langen Tag,” which would mean something like “the whole blessed day.” Indeed, “blessed” has taken over some of the intensifying roles once occupied by “lief” in English. We might say, for example, “the whole blessed time I was looking the other direction” or “what a blessed mess you’ve gotten us into.”
The other stealth-eggcorn is “lurch,” as in “leave in the lurch.” Most of us, I suspect, connect this phrase to the “lurch” in English that refers to a sudden leaning to one side, a staggering. But that “lurch” does not underlie the idiom “in the lurch.” The staggering “lurch” seems to have originated in a an obscure naval term. The “lurch” that gave rise to “in the lurch” started off as a gaming term. It was the name of a game and also a situation in the game, and it may have come from the Teutonic term for “left-handed,” which then, as even now, is a cipher for something irregular or out of character (sorry, lefties, it’s a right handed world—90% of us agree).
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.