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#1 2010-05-07 23:40:20

David Bird
Eggcornista
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1166

When eggcorns strike

Despite the seeming arbitrariness of natural catastrophes, and even lunatic behaviours, there are statistical laws that govern the frequency of their occurrence. There is order behind the recurrence of mortal earthquakes, sudden death by lightning, and the inspiration that leads to posts on the Eggcorn Forum. I downloaded the list of eggcornistas a while ago, somewhere in 2009 I think, and fitted a model to the number of posts (Fig. 1). I haven’t checked lately, but I’d say it’s unlikely that the general pattern has changed much.

Figure 1. The lifetime number of posts to the Eggcorn Forum, by all eggcornistas, versus the rank ordering by relative frequency. The number of posts are expressed on a logarithmic scale.

What can we conclude from this revelation of order? First, although certain forum regulars may be suspected of employing a whole army of collaborators to add to their long eggcorn life-list, the simplicity of the pattern says that, no, there is nothing there to inspire more than a normal measure of awe, the giants of eggcornery are just fulfilling their role in a much larger plan. To put the relative extremity1 of the eggcornistan submission record in perspective, I’ve also provided models for the annual per capita rate of death by lightning strike among countries (Fig. 2), and the mortality figures associated with historical earthquakes (Fig. 3). The increase in eggcorn posting among afflictionados is thereby seen to be akin to, or slightly greater than, the rate of increase of fatal lightning strikes among countries2, but it is significantly more acute than the incidence of geological disasters.

Figure 2. Annual deaths by lightning, per million people, among countries. . Figure 3. Total death toll per earthquake, vs. rank.
.............................

[1] The slope of the relation between Number of posts per eggcornista on the Y-axis and Relative rank on the X-axis, of a semi-log plot, where the most fecund poster has the rank 1, the next 2, and so on. Here, the slope for eggcorn posts was 0.17; for lightning deaths, 0.13; for earthquakes 0.07. Neighboring eggcornistas differ by plus or minus 18% of the total number of their posts.

[2] The units of expression make a big difference to the slope in this sort of muddling modelling so I wouldn’t push this analogy too far.

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#2 2010-05-07 23:47:12

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1751
Website

Re: When eggcorns strike

It’s the spiral structure of DNA that does it, isn’t it? Nevertheless, it is not blind fate: as Isaac Bashevis Singer was fond of pointing out, we must believe in free will—we have no choice.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#3 2010-05-08 03:36:51

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2101

Re: When eggcorns strike

The graph at the top shows that the people who post most frequently have the largest number of posts?

I must be missing something—isn’t this slope always the case? How could there be points that don’t fit the graph (i.e. that fall in the lower left or upper right corner)? Could there be such a thing as a person who posts frequently and has a low number of posts, or a person who posts infrequently and has a high number of posts?

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#4 2010-05-09 02:39:49

David Bird
Eggcornista
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1166

Re: When eggcorns strike

David, there is an interesting pattern there, and I like the idea that it’s DNA writ large. The pattern is the kind of pattern that develops when unique beings do what they enjoy doing, and get tangled up in the process.

Kem, this is an instance of a power law, albeit a simple one. The point, if there is one, is in the linearity of the relation in this form and the value of the slope, not in the inevitable monotone decline with rank. Models of this sort are used in ecology to describe the pattern of abundance in natural communities. For example, Figure 3 here is a community-composition rank-abundance diagram. The form of these curves and the abruptness of the slope are used to draw inferences about diversity.

You may be familiar with other famous power laws in linguistics, including Zipf’s law, that describes the uncanny regularity of the decline in frequency with rank of words in a corpus of language. The most abundant word, the, is twice as frequent as the next, of, and so on. One consequence is that a large number of words will be hapax legomena.

More pertinent for the relative number of posts to a forum might be Lotka’s law, which describes the relative frequency of publishing among scientists. The relation is an inverse squared proportionality, like gravity. The number of people publishing 10 articles per year is 1% of those publishing just 1. Lotka’s law is not applicable to the eggcornistas, but it fits surprisingly well to other member’s posts, though the porportionality if slightly greater than inverse squared. Single-posters number 954 today. The number of members having contributed 10 times is 6, which is just a bit less than 1% of singletons.

Last edited by David Bird (2010-05-09 02:40:43)

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#5 2010-05-09 04:56:56

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: When eggcorns strike

Things like this always make me think something like, “Wow, the world is really, really big—and the fact that I’m made aware of some of the bizarre patterns it produces only serves to suggest how many more I’ll never even have a clue about.”

And until I post this, David’s adjective “eggcornistan” is a hapax legomenon on the internet. Amazing that it took 5 years to produce the adjectival form.

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#6 2010-05-09 13:22:14

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1751
Website

Re: When eggcorns strike

Maybe we should all move there? (An island of insanity in central Asia …)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#7 2010-05-09 17:35:40

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2101

Re: When eggcorns strike

Sorry, David, didn’t read your post carefully enough to pick up the power law point. I’ve had my head around linear regressions lately and I assumed I was looking at another example of fitting lines to scattergraphs. File that one under “Blinkers, for Horses and People.”

Yes, I’ve come across some of the power law applications. Zipf and Lotka I know about. I hadn’t heard about Whittaker’s beetle plots. Oddly, I was just in the library yesterday scanning a couple of Whittaker’s books-he plays a small part in the piece I’m writing. Another of these Fortean intersections.

Have we really had a thousand single posters? I’m amazed. Over the life of this forum, that’s almost one every other day. That doesn’t seem like the current rate-we must have had a lot of single posters in the days before I jointed the forum.

Speaking of Lotka’s law, I read somewhere that the most prolific author of scholarly articles cranks out almost an article a day. His field is medicine and his name is just one of many on each of the articles, of course. Then there is James Patterson in fiction. Perhaps you saw the New York Times article on him earlier in the year. Any writer with a rejection slip takes some comfort the way Patterson has reversed the author/publisher relationship. But all of these publishing champions take a back seat to the almost unknown Philip M. Parker, at least in sheer number of titles.

Last edited by kem (2010-05-09 18:49:06)

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#8 2010-05-09 18:26:34

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: When eggcorns strike

Kem wrote:

bq, That doesn’t seem like the current rate-we must have had a lot of single posters in the days before I jointed the forum.

Well, we’ve had such long periods in the last two years during which auto-registration wasn’t possible, and that really cuts down on the number of hapax-posters. We’re under such a ban(n) now, and on top of that a lot of regulars (including me) aren’t posting as regularly as they used to. (How the rest of you manage to keep posting while you’re trying to write things of extended length is beyond me. I’ll always be in Lotka’s lower range.)

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#9 2010-12-28 01:18:31

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 619

Re: When eggcorns strike

kem wrote:

...Speaking of Lotka’s law, I read somewhere that the most prolific author of scholarly articles cranks out almost an article a day. His field is medicine and his name is just one of many on each of the articles, of course. Then there is James Patterson in fiction…But all of these publishing champions take a back seat to the almost unknown Philip M. Parker, at least in sheer number of titles.

And then there’s the late Isaac Asimov, who, in the words of Wikipedia, ”...was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards. His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (The sole exception being the 100s: philosophy and psychology, although he did write a foreword for The Humanist Way, which is published in the 100s).”

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