Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
We haven’t noted on this forum the long, eggcornical mixup between “lour” and “lower.” We see it at its most confusing in the phrase “louring/lowering clouds.” The confusion is between:
(1) Lower: To cause something to move downward. Threatening clouds are often low clouds. “Lower” in this sense appears to be an ancient verbing of the germanic adjective “low.”
(2) Lour: To look angry or sullen. The clouds of an impending storm present an angry face. The verb “lour,” used in written English since the twelfth century, is often spelled “lower” (Although the written word, when spelled “lower,” is identical in spelling to (1), the modern spoken forms are usually different. “Lower/lour” is pronounced so that the first syllable rhymes with “how.”).
The OED states the problem clearly: “[T]he two verbs have often been confused …. [W]hen said of clouds, lower, ... to look threatening, has some affinity in sense with lower …, to descend, and it is not always possible to discover which [verb] was in the mind of a writer.”
The two verbs can also be confused in non-cloud contexts. “Lour” refers to a facial expression in which the eyebrows descend. “He face changed. She lowered at my indiscretions” could be read as either of the two words.
I’m not familiar with lour but it reminds me of similar sounding words which contain some threatening aspect – glower for example, and leer, lout and leery/lairy.
Glower is subject to eggcornish analysis as a repetitive/frequentative of glow . At least the dictionaries do not give that as the real etymology, yet I have “always” (i.e. as long as I can remember) gotten the picture of a glowing coal of fire, pulsing hotter or cooler but never quite bursting into flame. Or perhaps a bank of clouds at dusk or night, with internal lightning setting off sporadic momentary glowings.
Apparently both pronunciations (rhyming with sour or with floor , give or take a mora of length on the – er ) are accepted. The second would better fit the eggcornish take on the word, but it works for me with either pronunciation.
Last edited by DavidTuggy (2011-01-06 03:03:09)
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
You’ve stirred up lour/lower from somewhere out near the edge of my vocabulary. Interesting eggcorn. In connection with your recent defence of order in language, I can strongly agree in this case. Substitution of the commonplace lower-descend for baleful lower-lour is a misdeed.