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#1 2010-12-13 20:38:49

ajlyon
Member
Registered: 2010-12-13
Posts: 5

Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

I noticed this in a New York Times article today:
“The governmental structure here, of a county that includes 88 cities and a maze of conflicting jurisdictions, responsibilities and boundaries, has defused responsibility and made it nearly impossible for any one organization or person to take charge.” (NYTimes, Dec. 12, 2010 “Los Angeles Confronts Homelessness Reputation”, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/13/us/13homeless.html)

The documented uses in the database are a substitution of “diffuse” for the expected “defuse”:
“It’s 2004 and India and Pakistan are at war, both with missiles ready and aimed. The American president and his top advisors must diffuse the situation.” (BBC Four)

It’s pretty clear that the Times article is using “defused” in a way that would normally be associated with “diffused”. I’m not sure how widespread this direction of the eggcorn is, but it’s interesting to note, and the database entry should probably mention it.

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#2 2010-12-14 14:18:17

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

Welcome to the forum ajlyon. Nice find … and a mostly credible argument. My one concern is whether this is simply a malapropism in which the utterer meant “diffuse” but wrote “defuse.” If we can make literal sense out of “defuse responsibility,” then we could argue for eggcorn status. That is, the utterer must literally intend the actual meaning of “defuse” for this to be an eggcorn.

As for reverse eggcorns, I think we run the risk of inventing usages when we hypothesize them—though I will add that we seem to do that all the time here in the Forum. Ideally, one would like to spot a usage in the wild (as you did) before reporting it.

Last edited by jorkel (2010-12-14 14:20:01)

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#3 2010-12-14 18:52:07

ajlyon
Member
Registered: 2010-12-13
Posts: 5

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

I can’t find more than a couple of additional instances of “defuse responsibility”, so I certainly can’t rule out this being a malapropism. Google tells us that we have: “Social Loafing- defused responsibility may
cause people to not to work very hard” in a presentation by a professor at Oklahoma University (http://www.ou.edu/faculty/M/Jorge.L.Mendoza-1/Teams.pdf); “Social arousal, decreased self-awareness, defused responsibility, [...], are factors that can either increase or decrease deindividuation within a group,[...]” in an article at PsychWiki (http://www.psychwiki.com/wiki/300967802-Deindividuation); and “A critical phase in institution building is in a movement away from specific responsibility and toward defused responsibility.” in a policy memo by the Stanley Foundation of Muscatine, Iowa (http://www.stanleyfoundation.org/public … IAAR~1.PDF).

This uses are rather similar in their field, and they make me wonder whether there might be a specialized usage in play. I think that the Stanley Foundation usage is pretty clearly a malapropism. An additional hit for “defuse responsibility” is in an essay on abuse and whatnot, “Another way to defuse responsibility is by claiming that the violence happened in the past and is no longer an issue.” (http://www.paulkivel.com/articles/retainingbenefits.pdf) Here, I think that we’re not seeing a malapropism, but I’m not what it is.

Anyway, I thought that noting this on the forum would at least put it on the radar of the eggcorn hunters, so that the next interested person will more easily find this earlier usage of something that might be at least a little eggcorny.

Last edited by ajlyon (2010-12-14 18:52:42)

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#4 2010-12-14 20:59:57

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

Nice ground work ajlyon. Perhaps there are other situations where both defuse and diffuse are used … not just in reference to responsibility. It would certainly be curious if someone were to take the viewpoint that responsibility might be defused … equating it with something which is harmful, potent,or tense.

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#5 2010-12-15 07:20:28

JuanTwoThree
Eggcornista
Registered: 2009-08-15
Posts: 331

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

It makes me wonder about “defer” and “differ”: there are numerous hits for “I beg to defer” as well as for ” has been differed”, many of which latter seem to mean “postponed”.

I can see the semantic overlap: you disagree “with respect” and you might put off a decision you’re not too happy with. I’d imagine that plenty are malapropisms or merely typos but not all?

I see “all due difference to” is common enough too, with the suggestion of “respectful diagreement”.

(Anybody want the vasectomy ‘joke’ again?)

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#6 2011-03-28 01:00:39

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

When I find an eggcorn I haven’t posted about yet, I like to mention it here on Eggcorn Forum even if it’s already been discussed here, just to share my particular example (finding eggcorns out there “in real life” as opposed to on this site is like an Easter egg hunt) and to call it to the attention of those who may not have seen this one before.

From the book Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic by John “Drumbo” French (page 308): “Alex was always a peacemaker and he certainly diffused this situation.”

“Diffused” for “defused” is already on the Eggcorn List:
http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/english/33/diffuse/

FWIW, my googling yielded 610 unique results, most or all of them actual eggcorns.

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#7 2011-03-28 01:06:08

ajlyon
Member
Registered: 2010-12-13
Posts: 5

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

Note that I started this thread with the question of whether “defused” for “diffused” also occurs as an eggcorn. Did you run into any in that direction?

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#8 2011-03-28 02:29:59

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 637

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

ajlyon wrote:

Note that I started this thread with the question of whether “defused” for “diffused” also occurs as an eggcorn. Did you run into any in that direction?

I didn’t look. It’s easy to get useful google results when there’s a common phrase such as “diffuse the situation” to google. I should have mentioned that that phrase is what I actually googled; sorry for any confusion.

But I can’t think of a similar phrase to google that would help me get a sense of how common the opposite (“defuse” for “diffuse”) substitution is. If you can think of a common phrase which includes the word “diffuse”, go ahead and replace “diffuse” with “defuse” in the phrase and google it. Of course, just googling the single word “defuse” or “diffuse” won’t help; you’ll just get a billion hits with any eggcorns buried in the list like needles in a mega-haystack.

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#9 2011-03-29 01:08:44

fpberger
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-16
Posts: 130

Re: Bidirectionality of the eggcorn diffuse/defuse?

I can certainly find instances of “defuse clouds”, and a few “defused in the water” or “defused in the air”. Some of the “defused in the air” might be construed as eggcorns, since they’re describing some material that might otherwise be harmful.

Yes you do have to be careful with some scents but being defused in the air there is little to no harm that can be done unless an allergy is an issue .

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