Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I was thinking about this the other day, though I’m sure I’m not the first and I dare say discussions abound about it already on this site. I get the feeling I’ve even posted something about this myself. So apologies in advance.
The internet is, amongst other things, a huge repository of how people write without the filter of teachers, editors, proof-readers and the like. It cuts out the middle-man in other words.Not that I do, but if you wanted to find eggcorns from before the internet, where would you look?
Even so, these were often written in a stilted way that did not lend itself to people taking chances with unfamiliar expressions. Add to that that people were not anonymous user-names caring less about what they wrote.
Can it be said that eggcorns are a product of new technology and new attitudes? The written-down ones at least?
I don’t doubt that the incidence of them has increased, for the reasons you mention, and the ease of finding them is hugely increased. But they pre-existed the new technology, for sure. I was collecting them (though not by that name) in the early days, and did it, as you say, by observing anything I read, and especially by listening carefully to what was said. Still get most of them that way—I’m not good enough (not to mention, too lazy) to think the good ones up and then find them.
The phenomenon is robust even without the new technology, even if it is enhanced by it.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
Some of the slips that are called “folk etymologies” are eggcorns. David B pointed us to a nineteenth-century collection of folk etymologies available on the Internet at http://books.google.ca/books?id=8AcYAAA … &q&f=false
Over the years, people posting to the forum have pointed out folk etymologies (historical eggcorns) in Old English and Middle English, and in many of the other languages from which English regularly borrows new words. It’s pretty clear to me at least that eggcorning is just one of many pathways of lexical innovation in English—and probably in many other tongues.
The internet must greatly multiply the sheer number of individual instances of eggcorns that one can collect. But I’m not so sure that it would have brought into being many eggcorns that had never been produced before. 5 years of eggcorn-hunting have convinced me that anything that can be reshaped will be reshaped—and I’d bet that that held true long before the 1990s.
And of course, spelling only really started to get standardized in the 18th C—some of the things we on the forum consider contemporary eggcorns are listed by the OED as historical spelling variants. (See for instance my recent comment on Craig C. Clarke’s “spare ribs” post.) The standardization of spelling in recent centuries might actually have helped slow eggcornification a little. But I’d stress that “might.”
Last edited by patschwieterman (2010-07-19 01:07:21)
My suspicion is that eggcorns are all in the realm of the spoken (or sung) word, and only become recognised as “eggcorns” once written down. The classic Australian eggcorn must be from the then national anthem—which until the mid-1970s was the same as the British national anthem. Notoriously, thousands of Australian kids heard and sang the words to the fourth line as “Send her to Victoria”, rather than victorious, and entirely logical interpretation as Victoria is the name of one of Australia’s states. Growing up as a republican, and in another state, it always seemed an eminent destination to me.