Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
craves analysis. The two words graphed on the ngram, “pernickety” and “persnickety,” mean the same thing: punctilious, fussy, intricate. Standard English borrowed “pernickety” from Scottish dialect in the early 1800s. “Persnickety,” which pops up in citations at the end of the nineteenth century, is clearly an alteration of “pernickety.”
As we can see on the ngram, the “persnickety” spelling has gradually won over English speakers. Its success has been most pronounced in AmEng, but even British speakers have warmed to the new word.
What brought about the spelling change? Two semantic explanations suggest themselves. First, “snicket.” About the same time that “persnickety” appeared in English, a British northern dialectical word, “snicket,” a narrow passageway between two buildings, was becoming more popular. Persnickety types follow the narrow way. Second, “snicker,” a derisive laugh, might have exercised an influence. Persnickety people may have been prototyped as sarcastic laughers.
fwiw, a snicker/nicker ngram runs (buy enlarge) parallel.
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
A few people are under the impression that “pernickety” is spelled with an extra “k,” as “perknickety:” https://www.google.ca/search?q=%22perknickety%22
Probably just one letter attracting another, but it could also be the influence of the word “knick-knack,” which denotes the sort of thing that perknickety people dote on.