Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Aren’t eggcorns just created by people who haven’t read much and who are now interested in communicating by writing on the internet? More likely they are forced to write— they want to participate in an online community in some form and there is no other way of doing it. I am sure that many people would prefer some other method. In any case they have heard the words and expressions in conversation or probably on TV and don’t know how to spell them so they make something up. It’s the same as misheard music lyrics isn’t it? It’s fun for better educated and more experienced people to laugh at what people come up with but it isn’t really that special or surprising.
Perhaps all of this has been discussed before but it’s been bugging me since I first heard about this.
Welcome Erniebert. Eggcorns are a word usage classification that was borne out of the observation that the definition of malapropisms, folk etymologies, etc. just weren’t broad enough to categorize them. And, locating and documenting these eggcorns has been enormously facilitated by the birth of the internet because UNEDITED language gets thrown out by both educated and uneducated sources alike.
One founder of this website warned posters against deriding their sources. Not only is it impolite, but many of the mistakes posted here originate from honest mistakes. A key feature of the eggcorn is that they are not intentionally created by either the one who utters them or the one who discovers them. They are simply located and interpreted. And, for a word usage to qualify as an eggcorn, it must be honest, UNINFORMED mis-interpretation of another set of words. To reemphasize: some of these eggcorns come from highly educated people.
I guess the phrase “nothing is obvious to the uniformed” might capture the sentiment of eggcorn hunters best. We all have been in the position of taking in information and reusing it incorrectly at some time or another. If you take this perspective, you will have greater fascination for the human ability to interpret language and use it creatively. Eggcorns really speak volumes for our adaptive ability. So, keep this kind-natured viewpoint in mind when you go out and hunt for them.
(But even so, it’s probably good for the rest of us to get a slap on the wrist every so often to keep us from getting too arrogant.)
Last edited by jorkel (2006-09-08 17:45:18)
Hey Joe! You just accidently eggcorned, leaving me to clean up! “There is no noun I cannot verb” (jokingly attributed to General Alexander Haig, that master of military jargon.)
From your previous post:
‘I guess the phrase “nothing is obvious to the uniformed” might capture the sentiment of eggcorn hunters best.’
An obvious (?) typo. But yes, I can’t agree more about people in ‘uniform’.
Jorkel, thank you for the thoughtful reply. Not having any background in language theory I just don’t know if these constructions are special. If linguists think so I am willing to believe them. My feeling however, is that the forcing for this effect is temporary. Access to this new form of communication must be driving language creation and alteration at a significantly greater rate than has been historically observed. This won’t last forever. I suppose by way of a disclaimer I should repeat I don’t have any training in linguisticts though I do find it fascinating.
I, for one, have a fascination with a whole other “category” of language usage which hasn’t even been formally classified yet: English-phrases-by-speakers-of-foreign-languages might best describe it. Over the years, when I have had (English) conversations with foreign-born persons, I have detected some of the most innovative English constructions. And it always causes me to sit back and reflect on how we native speakers channel ourselves into conventional thought with conventional idioms and conventional grammar. So, when a foreign-language speaker translates the conventions of his/her own language into ours, it’s almost like a breathe of fresh air.
Last edited by jorkel (2006-09-17 06:56:34)
It’s sometimes hard to determine, but I think when you’re dealing with a true eggcorn, the user will defend that he or she understands the phrase, uses it frequently, and intended to use the word as it is written. Yes these people probably picked up the phrase by hearing it in conversation or on television, or by reading it and remembering it a little incorrectly. But that’s how a living language works, and for something to be classed as an eggcorn, it should be more than one person using the new / alternate version. I think this is an example of how the idiom of a language evolves, whether or not the internet is involved. The internet makes it easier to confirm and track the usage, but I think I disagree that eggcorns don’t happen without it.
A non-internet-based change in “idiom” (not an eggcorn, but…) that I ran across once was a children’s clapping rhyme that my mother and I each learned in grade school.
I learned a rhyme that went:
“Say, say oh playmate
Come out and play with me
and bring your dollies three
climb up my apple tree
slide down my rain barrel
into my cellar door
and we’ll be jolly friends
My mother’s version was the same except it was “Holler in my rain barrel, slide down my cellar door”. I’m guessing the changes occurred because kids of my generation had never hollered into a rain barrel or seen a cellar door with a slide, so somewhere along the line some group of kids remembered the words in a way that made a little more sense to them. Maybe this isn’t so different from the original poster’s “misheard music lyrics” but it’s interesting because it propagated widely and in this case may have completely replaced the original. I’ve asked various people my age over the years, and if they knew the rhyme at all it was the newer version.
There’s a well-known and charming old song, by Philip Wingate (1894), called “Two Little Maids” or “Playmates.” The refrain is:
I don’t want to play in your yard,
I don’t like you anymore,
You’ll be sorry when you see me,
Sliding down our cellar door,
You can’t holler down our rainbarrel,
You can’t climb our apple tree,
I don’t want to play in your yard,
If you won’t be good to me.
If I’m not mistaken, it was used in the movie “Reds,” directed by Warren Beatty, and there’s a recording of it by Joan Morris and William Bolcom. Your mother’s rhyme (which I never heard before) can also be found on the Web.
Now the question is: Which came first, the song or the rhyme? I’ve known the song for a long time, but it never occurred to me it might be based on a children’s game.
Thanks Fishbait—you saved me from posting about Wingate.
Wingate’s song appears to have been rewritten in the 1940s (or 30s?) as a slightly different popular tune, but a few minutes of googling didn’t reveal who did it. There are apparently plenty of recordings of it as a song on recent children’s records (usually titled “Playmate” or “Oh Playmate” and attributed to “Public Domain” or “Traditional”).
As a little kid in the 70s, I learned it as a song—rather than as a rhyme—from an older relative. And I learned the original version, so I think I ruin fpberger’s pattern. I’ve since heard little kids singing it, and I’ve noticed that they sometimes say “rainbow” rather than “rainbarrel.” Rainbows may be easier to slide on.
The clapping rhyme is intriguing me. In our family rain barrels were never mentioned. Rather, as has been mentioned above, we always said “slide down my rainbow”. This recalls my earlier thoughts about misheard song lyrics.