Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I was listening to an interview this afternoon, and thought I’d found a live one: the speaker clearly said that something had been “signaled out” for some quality or other. A check of the internet showed that it wasn’t an isolated occurrence – astonishly, books.google.com lists 374 unique instances, among them one in the short story “The Young Duke” by Benjamin Disraeli, and another in a translated text by French critic Helene Cixous. This is getting past lots of editors. (Note that my first three examples at the bottom of the page are from Forbes Magazine, ABC News, and The Boston Globe, respectively.)
But more checking showed I’d been beaten to the punch. In August, 2004, a writer going by the initials ACW wrote in to Mark Liberman at Language Log, saying that they’d encountered the reshaping in an interview on NPR. The writer noted, however, that they had trouble seeing exactly how “signaled out” made sense in the usual contexts of “singled out.”
Liberman’s answer is interesting and worth looking at in full, but I’ll give a couple of excerpts here. First, he points out the problem with full compositionality in regard to both eggcorns and prepositional phrases:
With respect to combinations like “single/signal out”, it would be wrong to expect full compositionality. The combination of verbs with intransitive prepositions is one of the many pseudopods of morphological quasi-regularity that extend into the phrasal domain in English. There are lots of regular patterns, lots of idiosyncratic exceptions, and lots of small to medium-sized subregularities in between.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language … 01337.html
Then he offers what I feel is both a subtle and a reasonable argument for the eggcornicity of the phrase (1):
So when you choose someone you’ve singled him out, but when you choose two people, you haven’t doubled them out, or even coupled them out (though you might have coupled them up, depending on things work out). “Single out” seems to resonate with “point out”, and so it’s a little surprising that most people don’t think you can signal someone out (unless you’re an umpire). Of course you can’t designate him out either (again with a possible exception for fancy descriptions of umpires). Though you can pick him out.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language … 01337.html
Yet more checking revealed that even ACW and Liberman had been anticipated in ID’ing “signaled out” as a potential eggcorn. In the 1944 American edition of Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler had this to say about the construction:
Unfortunately, there is just nearness enough in meaning between the verb single on the one hand &, on the other, the adjective signal & the verb signalize to make it easy for the uncharitable to suspect writer rather than printer; & therefore especial care is called for, as with deprecate & depreciate.
Fowler’s identification of the semantic overlap between the (admittedly somewhat rarefied) adjective “signal” and “single” is another good argument for the eggcornicity of the phrase.
A couple of things struck me about all of this. First of all, some people had a fairly sophisticated understanding of how eggcorns come about long before the word “eggcorn” existed. And second, there are still widely-noted reshapings out there that we’ve never taken notice of here on the forum.
Sure, there are some annoying past-bonus contract issues involved, and some of the individuals signaled out for retention may not be the right ones to get them.
http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/17/aig-bo … cture.html
While the president may hope for a short bankruptcy, it may not be that simple, especially with those creditors that Obama signaled out for not cooperating.
We, the boys, were cruel to each other, a prerequisite for getting through the school day – either it was you who would get the leather strap or the petrified boy sitting next to you, and his being signaled out for the bout of perversity gave you a reprieve, if only a temporary one.
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/edito … a_beating/
The Greeks were signaled out for abuse because of the large amounts of money they sent back to Greece, greater than that sent by other immigrant groups.
People of color or individuals speaking with an accent were signaled out for attacks by perpetrators of hate crimes who ignored the fact that the majority of Muslims reject terrorism and violence.
In regard to eggcornology, Liberman also noted:
Well, actually, when it comes to eggcorns, we’re pretty much all amateurs. There’s no official subdiscipline of eggcornology, nor any International Journal of Eggcorn Studies. Not even a panel discussion at the LSA.
I wonder whether that’s changed in the last five years. Does anyone know whether eggcorns have ever achieved “official recognition” in a scholarly journal or on a conference panel?
(1) Sometimes I wish I were William Morris. The construction “a reasonable argument and a subtle” would have been handy here. The problem is that it makes you sound like William Morris.
An exhaustive treatment by a bone fide eggcornologist. Well done.
You’ll have to explain your William Morris comment to me. Long, long ago I read many of his works- News from Nowhere, John Ball, Well at the World’s End, Wood Beyond the World -and Henderson’s bio. Are you making some reference to his pseudo-medieval writing style? I don’t remember the dangling adjectives.
Are you making some reference to his pseudo-medieval writing style?
Yes! I remember this type of thing best from The Well at the World’s End, but in a quick check the first instance I found online was from near the beginning of the section of The Earthly Paradise called “The Lovers of Gudrun”—see the last line:
And as a mighty king’s was all his gear.
Well shaped of Flanders’ cloth, and silk and gold ;
Thus they their way up to the garth did hold.
And Thord the Short, Guest’s son, was next thereby, *
A brisk man and a brave ;
http://www.archive.org/stream/earthlypa … g_djvu.txt
Morris did this fairly often, and I think Robert E. Howard later picked it up from him.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-06-29 03:48:54)
Interesting. I noted Morris’s gothic-tinted vocabulary (who could miss it?), but I didn’t pay much attention to the grammatical components of his style.
I’m resurrecting this thread after nearly a year because, for the first time I can recall, I’ve just found an example of this eggcorn: “Why are the Catholics signaled out for child sexual abuse?” (from an Amazon chat-list).
Going in the opposite direction, we do have the common usage in African-American dialect, “single” for “signal”, as in Jimi Hendrix’s lyric “But darlin’ can’t you see my singles turn from green to red”, though it’s probably just a pronunciation issue.
Pat: Been reading The Hobbit to my grandson. In the second paragraph of the “Over Hill and Under Hill” chapter I came across this sentence:
“It was … a crooked way and a lonely and a long.”
I suppose Tolkien could have picked up this stylistic turn directly from Morris-Tolkien was a great fan of Morris’s fantasy novels.
A couple of months after this exchange, I was teaching Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and noticed that the construction turned up with some frequency there. I’d known that it was a Middle English construction, but I hadn’t really thought of it as Chaucerian before. Morris’s pseudo-archaic style was well established long before he published the Kelmscott Chaucer in 1896, but I’d bet Chaucer was the main source for him. As you say, Tolkien might have picked it up from Morris, or he might have gotten it directly from his work in Middle English.