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Chris -- 2018-04-11

#1 2011-11-29 14:08:01

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2740

wriggle << >> wiggle

I’m reading The Epigenetics Revolution, a new book by the British scientist and science writer Nessa Carey. My eyes hardly blink when I come across the spellings “foetus,” “haematology,” “oestrogen” – the Canadian spelling DNA is fully methylated from centuries of exposure to multiple spelling regimes. However, when I found the sentence “there is a bit of ‘wriggle-room’” on p. 149, I did blink. “Wiggle room” is what I would have said.

The question of whether the expression should be “wiggle room” or “wriggle room” has popped up on the net in several places. Consensus on these sites seems to be that “wiggle room” is the more venerable of the two expressions. I did a bit of poking around and found that the consensus aligns with the facts. “Wiggle room” was used in the 1930s in a non-figurative sense (“plenty of wiggle-room for your toes”) and as early as 1946 in a figurative sense (“The policy wiggle-room for local decisionmakers is remarkably small.”). “Wriggle room” follows the same metaphorical arc, but traverses it later than “wiggle room,” with the figurative sense not detectable in print until the 1960s. But “later” does not always mean “derived from.” Whether “wriggle room” arose independently or whether it was an eggcornical corruption of “wiggle room” is anyone’s guess.

“Wiggle room” continues to be the more popular of the two options. In a 2004 column William Safire points out that “wriggle has not succeeded in dislodging the more limited, precise and less pejorative wiggle” and that the wiggle room:wriggle room ratio is 14:1. I don’t know how Safire computed this ratio without Google Ngram, but Safire seems to have gotten his numbers right (Ngram analysis).

“Wriggle” and “wiggle” are not historical cognates – they are frequentatives of two independent Teutonic verbs. The meanings of “wriggle” and “wiggle” have a lot of overlap, but there are differences: “wriggle” hints at a random motion, often one with some writhe or twist to it, while “wiggle” points the listener toward a more two-dimensional back-and-forth movement. When Theodore Roethke wrote his poem “I Knew a Woman,” he probably had a “wriggle” motion in mind (“Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:” Read his lovely poem here.).

While “wriggle room” is a debatable eggcorn, a switch in the opposite direction (“wriggle >> wiggle”) is a better eggcorn candidate. The idiom “wriggle out of,” meaning to contrive to avoid something, came into common use in the mid-1800s and peaked in popularity during the 1920s. About the time it peaked, the phrase “wiggle out of” began to be used in the same sense. It is possible that the post-1920 decline of “wriggle out of” represents, in part at least, its replacement by “wiggle out of.” If “wiggle out of” is an eggcorn, it is a highly successful one: the COCA database suggests that the metaphorical uses of “wriggle out of” and “wiggle out of” have appeared in print with about the same frequency over the last decade.

Last edited by kem (2012-01-07 15:38:34)

Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.



#2 2011-12-04 23:42:43

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

Re: wriggle << >> wiggle

A great, detailed analysis.

I’d bet there are still other “wiggle room” variations out there we haven’t covered. I found one: whittle room. If you have a tight fit and you whittle away at it a bit, you end up with some wiggle room. It’s hardly popular; these instances are about the whole story:

I’m hearing from the Judge there’s—there ought to be some whittle room on mileage and
surcharge for mileage beyond a certain amount. … 438530.txt

also ther is some whittle room if you have lets say english and math tomorrow and english is your best subject

you will probably need a dremel to get the part of the stab that will still be stuck to the fuse out. taking as little out as possible to make sure the new one has some whittle room for a nice fit and STRAIGHT[;)] … ntable.htm



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