Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
From the literary eggcorn beat…
Rebecca Stott, in the new volume Darwin’s Ghosts, tells a story about Mary (Frankenstein author) Godwin and Erasmus Darwin:
Mary—who became Mary Shelley on her marriage to Shelley later that year—described the late-night conversations at the Villa Diodati in her introduction to the revised single-volume edition of Frankenstein in 1831: “They talked of the experiments of Dr Darwin . . . who preserved a piece of vermicelli in a glass case till by some extraordinary means it began to move with a voluntary motion. Not thus, after all, would life be given. Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things: perhaps the component parts of a creature might be manufactured, brought together, and endued with vital warmth.”
The vermicelli is a misremembering on either her or Shelley’s part. Darwin had actually written “vorticellae” in his notes on spontaneous generation in The Temple of Nature. He was describing a microscopic aquatic filament found in lead gutters that when dried out shows no sign of life but “being put into water, in the space of half an hour a languid motion begins, the globule turns itself about, lengthens itself by degrees and assumes the form of a lively maggot. . . swimming vigorously through the water in search of food.”
What Stott calls a “misremembering” looks suspiciously like an eggcorn. You can see Erasmus Darwin’s description of the revivification of a vorticella by going and doing a search for “vorticella.” Mr. Darwin seems to be referring to the animalcule that we still call a vorticella:
Recasting a long, thin animal that is dried out and softens in water as vermicelli, a long, thin spaghetti-like pasta that softens in water (pic below) is a stroke of eggcorn genius.