Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Yes, the vagueness of the definition sure is puzzling—esp. given that Ben Zimmer used to be on the OUP staff. Couldn’t they just have emailed him with the draft definition for old times’ sake?
An attentive user of the dictionary might still end up with a decent understanding of the word. The fourth citation in the OED article spells out what the definition doesn’t:
2010 K. DENHAM & A. LOBECK Linguistics for Everyone i. 13 Crucially, eggcorns make sense, often more than the original words.
Jan Freeman the recent OED inclusion of “eggcorn.” In her article she surveys the territories claimed by eggcorns, mondegreens, malapropisms, and folk etymologies. The borders, she notes, are not “bright lines.” Her perspective on the landscape is the same one that many of us have arrived at. And a timely reminder that the plats are drawn as much by what we think an eggcorn isn’t as by what we think an eggcorn is.
Last edited by kem (2010-09-25 11:27:39)
Thanks for pointing to the article, Kem. My favorite part is the illustration at the top.
“Eggcorn” as an OED headword entry is step one. The next step is for the OED to use the word eggcorn in its definitions.
The OED may not have had the word “eggcorn” in its stable of descriptors before the twenty oughts, but it has always found some way to recognize eggcorn events. This week I read through entries in which we appealed to OED discussions and gleaned from them the various expressions that OED writers have used to describe eggcorns. Here is a cross-section of what I found: (Y is the acorn, X the similar-sounding eggcorn)
“X closely approaches in meaning the etymologically unrelated Y”
“the meaning of X appears to have arisen by confusion with Y”
“the word Y was corrupted to X”
“X was confused with Y”
“X makes some allusion to Y”
“X is an alteration of Y”
“X imports the meaning of Y”
“the association of X with Y has led to the substitution of X for Y”
“people were spelling Y as X”
“some Englishmen were led to the erroneous notion that X was the original and correct form of Y”
“X is probably after Y (? errroneous)”
“the unetymological spelling of X with [the letters of ] Y”
“X and Y have often been confused – when X has this meaning it has some affinity with Y when it has this meaning”
How long before the OED editors will deem the word “eggcorn” an acceptable substitute for some of these paraphrases? Longer, I suspect, than the six years it took for the newly minted word to appear as a dictionary headword. The journey from the time when a word is coined to the time when it can be used by slang-shy lexicographers to describe other words is measured in decades, not years. I looked through the words added by the OED in the 1990s, for example, and I didn’t find any that I would expect current OED editors to use in their dictionary prose. We would be shocked, I think, to read in an OED etymology that a word was “a mixmastered Frankenword that should be rewilded to its original spelling,” but chances are that words from the nineties will become acceptable editorial prose before a 2010 entry such as “eggcorn” loses its taint of slang.
An interesting point. I suspect you’re right, however—a neologistic taint will cling to “eggcorn” for decades to come. Hopefully the forum will still be around to celebrate on the day the OED actually uses the term in an etymology.
I made a list conceptually similar to yours a few years ago when I was looking for folk etymologies in the OED. I used reference books to find some of the best-known examples, and then looked at what terminology the OED used for those in the etymology entries. My list was a lot less exhaustive than yours, but usefully different:
by association with
That word “etymologizing” is really useful when you’re looking for this stuff. The people writing etymologies for the OED loved the word “perversion,” for instance, but it didn’t always point to something eggcornical. But once you stick “etymologizing” in front of it, you almost always get something of interest to us.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2011-01-07 14:11:10)