Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Woo is a charming and seductive O.E. word that is unique and without cognates. Until now, apparently. To whoo someone must be to dazzle them, romantically or otherwise.
I hesitate to call it a superstitious h-insertion.
Reports are running rampant on the interweb claiming Olsen has been dating Lance “Live Strong” Armstrong. Maybe he whooed her by riding double on one of those two person bikes.
(http://tastybooze.com/2007/10/uncle-jes … e-been-me/)
I’m not surprised that Paris whooed her way out of the slammer. She probably gave her autograph to all the guards on her way out.
Lisa struck me as very romantic, so I whooed her in by hypnotism.
Ashley (who’s the muse for this song) and I did get engaged (even with full knowledge of her medical predicimant )after her return from Japan( I whooed her one evening on the piano playing this song).
Harry Potter fan fiction:
As I went passed a pair of newleyweds, I handed him the rose when she wasn’t watching, and in turn he whooed her with the gorgeous flower that was still surprisingly in good shape.
(http://www.quizilla.com/stories/3266597 … o-harry-21)
I’m pretty skeptical about this one. I’m always a little concerned about homophonous reshapings because the probability of netting simple misspellings along with/instead of authentic reshapings is very high. “Lacks” for “lax”—which you also posted today—has the usual problem: “cks” is the most common way of representing the /ks/ sound in English, so many people may just be spelling phonetically. Still, I can certainly see the semantic connection between “lax” and “lacks”—service that is “lax” most definitely “lacks” something. Even if most people are just spelling poorly, at least a few out there just have to be making the connection. Unfortunately, most examples won’t be able to provide clear evidence.
“Whooed” for “wooed” seems to me rather more problematic. “H-insertion” is really, really common. The string “I whish that” gets 642 ugh (unique Google hits). That’s pretty big when you consider that we’re talking about a 3-word string and further that ughits are capped at 1000. And that’s without much chance of a meaningful motivation for the inserted h. And “to whoo somebody” in the supernatural sense looks pretty darn rare—the reshaping seems greatly to outnumber the original, at least in transitive uses. And finally, the semantic connection between making a “whoo” sound and wooing somebody doesn’t seem real clear to me. I think this is almost always a misspelling rather than a flounder.
I vote a big “yes” on this one, the frequency of h-insertions notwhithstanding. Observations:
(1) “Whoo” for “woo” when the context refers to courting is an unusually common substitution. Besides David’s “whooed her,” which gives 50 ughits, “whooed by” gives 140 ughits, “be/being/been whooed” another 160, “whooing him/her” about 100, “whooing the” 80 more, “been whooing” 30, “whoo/whooing customers” 20 (I’m only counting substitutions that refer to courting.).
(2) “Whoo” as an expression of having fun/excitement is well-established. The interjection “”whoo” occurs almost 500 times in COCA, for example.
(3) The alternate spellings of the shout “whoo-hoo/woo-hoo” occur with almost equal frequency in COCA. The interchangeability of these spellings greases the substitution of the courting “woo/whoo” switch.
(4) Pat notes the frequency of “I whish that.” But the h-insertion in “whish” in this phrase is primed by the “h” in “that.” Quickly checking some ghit ratios for “whish/wish,” I find the frequency of unprimed h-insertion is in the range of 1/2000. For phrases with “woo/whoo,” unprimed h-insertion frequencies are in the range of 1/300, almost an order of magnitude higher. [Insert here the usual caveat about using the Google ghit numbers with their hidden algorithms.].
Let me respond point by point.
(1) These numbers don’t seem surprising to me. They do indicate that people are misspelling “woo” across every derivational form, but that’s what I would expect.
(2) This is the clencher. Everybody on the forum who has tried hard to make Google numbers a crucial component of arguments for eggcornicity has had problems showing that the numbers really mean what we claim they mean. (And I say that as -
formerly - the forum’s most enthusiastic hit-watcher and number-cruncher.) So for me, the strength of the semantic argument is the linchpin of a claim for eggcornicity. And I don’t see it here. Okay, fine, there are 500 instances of “whoo” as an interjection on COCA. But the interjection can be used in a pretty large range of contexts, and nearly all of those have some emotional component. But what’s the specific connection to wooing? Are most of the people using the interjection “whoo” on COCA doing so in the context of dates and courtship? If so, that would be powerful evidence for your position. But I’d be surprised—“whoo” and “courtship” aren’t (or weren’t) linked in my mind in any way. And I’m skeptical that it’s a strong linkage for anyone. I most strongly associate the word with ghosts and owls. And yes, courtship can be very scary. And some wooed folk probably feel that they have a predator/prey relationship with their wooer. But making an eggcornical argument out of that kind of thing is a mighty big reach.
(3) I’m not sure how this helps your argument. One could as easily argue that the interchangeability of spellings indicates just that—w and wh are interchangeable for many people. In fact, this may hurt your argument.
(4) Okay, two things. First of all, if you go back into my posts about 2.5 years ago, you’ll occasionally see me trying to make arguments based on ratios between reshapings and standard forms of words. But I don’t believe you’ll find a single instance of that in, say, the last year. Why? Because I spent so much time looking at Google numbers for reshapings that I no longer think those kinds of comparisons are useful. Unique number hits can’t be used in that way because Google is using ranking protocols for ughits that they aren’t interested in defining for us. And raw hits can’t be used because crosslinking can expand counts exponentially, and there’s obviously no way of accounting for that. That fact grew especially problematic for me as I became convinced that the inflation of the hits for standard forms far outstripped the inflation rate for non-standard ones. I didn’t even bother checking your numbers on this one, because I just don’t think these kinds of ratio counts mean anything.
Second, how can you be so absolutely sure that the h in the following word is “priming” the spelling of the preceding word? That seems like a hopeful guess to me. I googled “I whish i,” which isn’t followed by a “that,” and got a ugh count of 853—even higher. Interchange between these forms is extremely common.
I don’t see any evidence of a telling semantic link here. “Whooed/whooing” is a misspelling.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-08-12 18:02:47)
I’m with Pat on this – perhaps even more skeptical. I think that Kem’s points 2 and 3 count as evidence against David’s analysis. At least, they are not strong evidence in favor.
I may be too quick to grab for Occam’s Razor here, but in general when a written form can be described as a common misspelling, I’m skeptical of suggestions that it “must be” an eggcorn.
This one is clearly weak and many or most of the instances found on the web may well be misspellings. But surely not all. At least some of these users interpret “whooing her”, not as making a sound at her, but as impressing her, exciting her, wowing her romantically.
Admittedly, evidence for this interpretation is scant. It might be best to let it lie fallow for a few years until someone has firsthand evidence that it’s not just a misspelling. The only examples I can find (quickly) in support of the “whoo” factor are the following still-ambiguous finds.
Braggadocio and p’ing contest among news commentors, where “whooed me” looks very much like an ironic “impressed me”
Congratulations you have a thesaurus and looked up personal attack and false ideology. You whooed me with your abilities, gosh you must be right since you use nickel words.
(http://www.independent.com/news/2008/oc … der-trial/)
Sports report where a player “whooed the crowd” with his talent, not his charm
From all accounts there was one standout player on the park and that was the Number 46 for Rostrevor who showed his talents on and off the ball. His electrifying pace and sublime skill whooed the crowd and dazzled the opposition.
(http://www.footballnews.com.au/forum/vi … w=previous)
Let’s try to clarify a couple of points. First, the meaning of “whoo.” I’m not trying to make any connection between the “whoo” call of an owl and wooing (Most owl calls are courtship calls, to be sure, but I wouldn’t think that most people make this association.). Or the “whoo” that is an echoic sound for the wind. The “whoo” that motivates the h-insertion in “woo” is the interjection “whoo/whoo-hoo.” It has been around since the seventeenth century, the OED says, and it is an extremely common expression in current speech (which is the point of the COCA numbers).
The semantic connection between “whoo/whoo-hoo” and “woo” is, well, sex. Or at least libidinous fun. Do I need to document this? I thought everyone knew what a wink and a “whoo/whoo-hoo” means. “Whoo-hoo” is the current buzzword on the Sims, for example, for the twisting bodies under the blanket scenario. Even seven-year olds, it would appear, know what a whoo-hole is. “Whoo/whoo-hoo” can be, and usually is, employed without explicit sexual overtones. Homer Simpson is the most recent celebrity to wave the sanitized “whoo-hoo” banner (sample audio track here). and a bank in the Pacific Northwest has adopted the phrase as its advertising slogan. But a fine line divides the sanitized and the unsavory versions of “whoo/whoo-hoo:” converting one into the other is a matter of a raised eyebrow.
Second, the issue of h-insertion ratios. Pat and I both agree that raw Google hits mean almost nothing in absolute terms. But I still think that one can argue that ratios of Google raw hits have some validity. We have to make the assumption that the mystery algorithm that Google uses to compute raw hits performs its magic in a similar way in similar searches. You say, Pat, that “crosslinking” can “expand counts exponentially.” Not quite sure what you mean by that. I always do my Google searches using quotation marks around the words. With quotation marks, Google only returns (and I assume only counts) pages that have the exact spelling of the word or phrase. For the most part the raw hit numbers that are over 1000, which can’t be verified by looking at the returned results, seem consistent with the ones that have raw hit numbers under 1000, which can be verified.1 Without quotation marks, especially on multiword phrases, all bets are off.
I ran some ratios for words beginning with “wo-,” assuming these would be most comparable to “woo/whoo.” The word pairs “word/whord,” “woolen/whoolen,” “woodpecker/whoodpecker,” “wonderful/whonderful,” “wolfman/wholfman,” “woman/whoman,” and “woeful/whoeful” have astronomically high ratios in favor of the first word in the pair. The only search that returned a ratio even slightly comparable to “woo/whoo” was “wonky/whonky,” which came in at 1400/1, still five times less likely to have an h-insertion than “woo/whoo” in courtship contexts (“Wonky/whonky” may have something eggcornish going on with “whonk,” so the lower ratio may be an argument in favor of “woo/whoo” eggcornicity rather than against it.).
(1) I have correlated Google’s raw hit numbers with word frequency lists in English (such as this one ) and the Google frequency graph matches the slope in these other word frequency graphs. The compared data sets would pass a chi-square test with flying colors. Words that one would expect to occur more frequently on the web than in a body of published English prose, words relating to sales, to pornography, and to personal opinions, for example, are outliers on the graph, not because Google’s raw count algorithm is inconsistent, but because the bodies of data being searched for these words are not comparable.
Kem—I want to make this quick. You seem to have developed a somewhat startling emotional investment in demonstrating that “whooed her” is an eggcorn. I consider it a boring misspelling, and I can’t really justify to myself the expenditure of time you’re willing to put out on this.
But again, let’s hit your main points. Wait a second, are we talking about “whooing” or “whoohooing”? You conflate the two in the first sentence of your second paragraph, but David B isn’t claiming that people are writing “whoohooing her.” And these seem like very different things to me. Your description of “whoohoo” makes it sound like a grotesque and exhibitionist expression of naked animal lust. Is that what people are thinking when they’re writing about courtship and wooing? Really? I would think that that kind of thing is precisely what “wooing” isn’t. The fact that you assume that these two can be conflated without any further comment is surprising to me.
I don’t see any value at all in using raw hits counts to create ratios between standard words and non-standard reshapings. First of all, I have no idea what raw hits counts mean—especially given the bizarre fluctuations in Google numbers that we’ve seen in the last two years. I have documented here on the forum vast swings in the raw hits counts for a single word from one day to the next. And these numbers don’t always just go up—indicating that something is sometimes really, really wrong with Google counts. Other people have also documented this kind of phenomenon elsewhere on the Web—in fact, I think I have a memory of you yourself talking about that somewhere. When Google counts get reasonably big, I simply don’t know what they mean or what they’re measuring anymore, and I’m hardly alone.
As for your ratios, I think standard words are—because of the nature of the texts that they appear in—far more likely than are reshapings to appear in texts that get linked and reposted on many different websites. Furthermore, it’s impossible to calculate this effect (1), and I believe that it’s absolutely certain that counts for some standard words are getting inflated at a rate rather different from that of the “inflation rate” for other standard words. Your attempt to calculate ratios using these kinds of numbers implicitly assumes that the inflation rate will be the same for all standard words, and I don’t see how that could possibly be true.
And I think there are lots of other factors in people’s orthographical choices that you’re not taking into consideration. Just as an example, could it be possible that people are choosing “whooing” because that “wh” looks “old-fashioned” to them—and “wooing” is an old-fashioned concept? I don’t know whether they are doing that or not, but that type of thing is something I’d investigate if I cared. But I don’t.
None of the points you’ve raised looks in any way like persuasive evidence for the eggcornicity of “whooing” to me. And I feel I’m basically wasting my time on a common misspelling. I’m willing to let you have the last word on this topic if you want it—I won’t be posting on it further.
(1) You’ve argued before that ughits provide this number—you’ve claimed that ughits show the number of unduplicated hits out of a thousand, and then you’ve multiplied that “percentage” by the raw hits number to get Google’s estimate of the unique hits for a word on the Web. (The meaning of Google counts is debated endlessly on the Web—have you seen anyone else using your system?) But I find that impossible to believe. Ghits counts in the 700s and 800s are common and 900s occur—“olive” for instance is currently polling an amazing 938 ughits. Do you really believe that around 94% of all the instances of “olive” on the Web are unique? For reshapings that pull roughly 1000 hits—words occurring in texts far less likely to be crossposted on different sites—I’ve almost never seen a number above 40%. Estimates of a non-duplication rate in the 70, 80 or 90 percentile range are just incredible to me. I think Google’s “relevancy” rankings—and probably many other unspoken factors—are greatly skewing these numbers.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-08-14 03:50:55)
I see eggcorn action in “whoo-ing,” you don’t. We can leave it at that. I’d be glad to hear what others think about the word. These long shop-talks tend to jack a thread.
As for the uses of Google search numbers–we have agreed in the past that these are imperfect tools. They always will be, so long as Google hides its algorithmic secrets from the public. That’s the main point, and anything else we say about it is a subpoint. I’ll probably continue to torture the numbers, trying to wring some startling confession out of them (Is Torque-mada an eggcorn?). I have no illusions that number magic will ultimately transform the way we find and validate eggcorns.
No matter what we individually decide about the role of h-insertions in “whoo-ing,” the discussion of h-insertions will remain a necessary evil. The search for eggcorns has a positive and a negative phase. Eggcorns are semantically-motivated substitutions of same/similar sounding words/phrases that the speaker/writer believes to be correct. Fair enough. But we have found it necessary to modify to this positive definition with a negative corollary that is almost as significant as the definition: Semantic explanations of candidate eggcorns can only be invoked when other explanations are exhausted. Thus we end up discussing, sometimes with more heat than light, h-insertions, song lyrics, spelling variations, proper name licensing, idiom blends, large fuzzy spots, transpositions, priming, spoonerisms, dialectical communities, etc. I have wondered at times whether we are letting the corollary drive the thesis. Sometimes I feel a little tug on my shirttail. I turn around and find a raggedy boy named “Sam Antics,” and he says “Please, sir, why am I always last?”
Sometimes I feel a little tug on my shirttail. I turn around and find a raggedy boy named “Sam Antics,” and he says “Please, sir, why am I always last?”
Watch out, Sam. I think that Occam fellow is trying to cut you down.
I think I have found support for the notion that “whoo” can be an eggcorn for “woo”, and therefore that it is not (always) just a misspelling. Though rare, there are instances of whewing someone. “Whew her” strikes me as a clear statement of the idiom as “impress her”, “take her breath away”.
“To whew” is an interesting find, and I think the semantic link is ingenious and at least possible. But of course there’s the same problem here as there is with “whoo”: given the low numbers, it may be just a misspelling. The w/wh alternation is common, as we’ve noted before, and the +ew spelling could be modeled on “chew/dew/few/flew/screw/stew/threw,” etc. The version without the first h exists in the whild—I didn’t find a lot of people wewing her, but they’re out there wewing him for some reason.
I’m not sure what this has to do with “whoo” for “woo,” since “whew” and “whoo” have very different pronunciations and meanings. Evidence for “woo”>> “wew/whew” doesn’t seem all that relevant to evidence for “woo”>>”whoo.”
Last edited by patschwieterman (2010-04-30 13:53:22)