Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
For years, I thought the phrase my mother was using was “dull as dishwater”, so that’s what I said. One day, she enunciated more clearly than usual, and I realized that the idiom was “dull as ditchwater”. I believe that the latter predates the former.
(I still tend to say dishwater instead.)
This one is common, and not necessarily incorrect. Don’t know why it’s not in the database yet. My favorite variant is “dull as a dishwasher”, see:
Thanks for that link, kem. A lot of interesting historical references over there (though I suspect one of them might have been made up….).
Related question: Is my hair “dishwater blond(e)” or “ditchwater blond(e)”? Google favors the former, at 21,200 to 41 (and even some of the 41 mention “dishwater” as the standard term or an alternative term). I’ve always used the former expression myself, but will also admit to saying “dull as dishwater” on the rare occasions when I use that sort of phrase at all—so don’t quote me!
Very interesting. This is the first time I have heard “dull as ditchwater”. If “dishwater” is the eggcorn, then it is widespread. A startling revelation for me.
As kem said on the “coral wreath” thread, the correct term for a collection of antique eggcorns and fossilized malapropisms is “English.”
Seriously, a fairly large fraction of the current English vocabulary (and presumably this applies to other languages as well) consists of words that “shouldn’t” mean what they mean, because a lot of people confused one word for another a few hundred years ago, so that now we’re correcting people for using a new eggcorn instead of the old one!
If someone could post some examples, I’d be grateful. I’ve read about quite a few, but they’re all words that I’m so familiar with in their current incarnation that I have trouble remembering that they used to mean something else.
Earlier this year David B pointed us to an old book on Folk-etymologies by Abram Smythe Palmer. If you glance through the Palmer book you will find many examples of historical eggcorns. Be aware, though, that some of his etymologies are fanciful and nonstandard.
I’ve done a few posts on old eggcorns. You might check the ones on endiron, lammas, foremost, bridegroom and contre-danse, mandrake, dormouse, and barberry/chestnut/parsely piert/tangle. The chain of posts on n-borrowers and n-losers in English also shows ancient eggcorns at work.