Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Some people have names that can’t be improved. On Spadina Street in Toronto, near Chinatown, is the Wing On Chapel World Funeral Parlor. The bar manager at Ontario’s famous Deerhurst Resort is Frank Drinkwater. Calvin Coolidge was, by all accounts, the most laid-back president in U.S. history. When these proper names are allowed to play the semantic games of common nouns, they ring true.
Some names, however, need a little improvement before they can be semanticized. In earlier posts I have mentioned Amelia Airhart and Stokey Charmichael. To these two names we might add that of Milton Friedman, the famous economist. Friedman was the dean of free market capitalism. Thousands of web pages think that Mr. Friedman was, as his economic philosophy suggests, Mr. Freedman.
A scattering of web pages refer to the Danish physicist “Neils Bore.” Do the writers of these pages find the indeterminacies of quantum mechanics less than exciting? Perhaps they took classes from Mr. Gradgrind, the teacher in Hard Times who operated a school for hardnose realists.
Dickens invented the names of Gradgrind and his colleague M’Choakumchild with an eye to their semantic mappings, of course. The “grind” in the name “Gradgrind” probably refers to the schoolmaster’s teaching style, his staccato barrage of presumed facts. But what is the “grad” part about? Philip Allingham on The Victorian Web speculates on the first part of the surname:
The “grad” in “Gradgrind” may imply that he himself is a graduate of a such a system, or may simply be an abbreviation of “gradually.” In Allegory in Dickens (1977), Jane Vogel sees the name “Gradgrind” as part of a pattern of stoning, noting that like schoolmaster Headstone and step-father Murdstone, “Mr. Gradgrind . . . gradually grinds childish fancy, curiosity about wonders seen and unseen . . . on the remorseless grindstone of fact, rule, law” (44).
These seem like reasonable explanations. But a few web site writers, still puzzled by the “grad” part of the name, glance at Gradgrind’s profession and imagine that his name must have been “gradegrind.” Two examples:
Web comment “Bush and Mr. Gradegrind would probably love one another”
Medical exam prep site “I see him like Mr. Bounderbi & Mr. Gradegrind in ‘Hard Times’ who try to fill students’ heads with facts devoid of spirit. ”
Cornelius Vanderbilt confected a financial dynasty from railroads and ships. Is that why thousands spell his name as “Vanderbuilt?” And Samuel “Peeps” was a first class busybody.
Have we discussed other people with revised proper names on this forum? Are there ones I have overlooked?
Among the American expats who flooded into the Canadian hills during and after the Vietnam war was my friend William Guy, who went by his surname. Guy hailed from “DC”; his nickname there had been “Zorro”, since the actor who played Zorro on TV was Guy Williams. But that’s not what this post is about. Guy told me that in the organic food restaurants of the era, he heard repeated references to a spiritual leader, the Cripple Saint. He thought to himself, “Hmm, sounds pretty cool, this cripple saint!” Only later did he realize that they were devotees of Kirpal Singh.