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#1 2013-05-06 15:48:33

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2153

prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

One way the lexicon grows is through word shortening. While there are many types of word/phrase shortening in English – abbreviations, acronymns, ellipses, metonomy, euphemisms, etc. – I’m thinking here of the simplest type of shortening, one in which a piece of a longer, multisyllabic word is substituted for the whole word. Wordchops.

Wordchops may or may not lead to eggcorns. When a wordchop results in a new English word, for example, the eggcorn mechanism does not have much to latch onto. Take bicycle—> bike. Though “bike” was once an English word (hornet/bees nest), it had pretty much faded from the minds of English speakers before “bike” became a short form of “bicycle.” There was/is almost no chance of confusion. Same thing with umpire – > ump, synchronized –> sync, suburbs –> burbs, etc.

Occasionally, however, a wordchop results in a term has an active homonym, and these chops open the door to a conflation of the new and the pre-existing word. The new word pick up, as it were, the smell of its established homonym. Take, “hack,” as in “literary hack.” “Hack” is a wordchop of the French-derived “hackney,” a word for a horse—often a decrepit nag—lent for hire. The relevance of the transfer from horses to humans is all too obvious. But the wordchop overlaps with an established AS noun/verb “hack” that refers to random and irregular cuts/slashes, a concept that also maps nicely onto “literary hack.” So a hack writer is one who works for hire, but also one that wields a careless pen. We have, I think, a hidden eggcorn.

The best example I know of this wordchop-to-eggcorn move is “prop,” a wordchop of “property,“ one of the words that the Normans brought to England. The word “property” took on, early in its British career, a more specific meaning. It became a tag for the equipment that was procured, stored, and employed by an acting company. In “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Quince, a member of the rude troop of actors that put on an unintentionally hilarious play for the royals, employs this sense of “property” when he says that “I will draw a bill of properties such as our play wants.” By the middle of the nineteenth century, the technical term “property” shows up in written English in short form, “prop.” Today, the wordchop has entirely replaced the longer word. Modern actors use props, not properties. Students studying Midsummer Night’s Dream must make an effort to understand what Quince meant by “bill of properties.”

The shortening to “prop” led, in short order, to a meaning meld. Speakers began to confuse the wordchop with its homonym “prop,” a word referring to a support/brace that English had borrowed from Teutonic sources. In J.K. Jerome’s 1885 On the Stage – and Off, a comic memoir of his days with an acting troupe, the author writes (p. 32): “It was … .the property room, the things therein being properties, or, more commonly ‘props’, so called, I believe, because they help to support the drama.”

Many—perhaps even most—English speakers adhere to Jerome’s folk etymology. They think that stage props are either propped up devices or that they serve to prop up the production in which they are employed.

Does anyone recall whether we have found other eggcornical wordchops on this forum?

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#2 2013-05-07 01:25:40

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Interesting post about wordchops leading to eggcorns, kem. Just one thing:

kem wrote:

In J.K. Jerome’s 1885 On the Stage – and Off, a comic memoir of his days with an acting troupe, the author writes (p. 32): “It was … .the property room, the things therein being properties, or, more commonly ‘props’, so called, I believe, because they help to support the drama.”

Jerome’s expressed understanding of the derivation of “prop” from “property” militates against the conclusion that “prop” was an eggcorn for him. It seems he was referring to others’ eggcornish understanding of “prop”, or even just punning; it is, after all, a comic memoir. So the question arises: can you point to any examples showing that “prop” is actually an eggcorn for anyone, rather than just a joke from Jerome?

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#3 2013-05-07 16:14:54

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1780
Website

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Kem, not sure why you included synchronized –> sync among the forms where the chopped form does not have a homonym. Not only is there a homonym , but people apparently perceive it at least sometimes or at some level when using a form with sync .
.
For your enjoyment, my son’s take on The Choir that Lip-Sank the Anthem .


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#4 2013-05-07 16:57:59

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2153

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Good point, David. I was thinking of homonyms in terms of spelling, not sound. Sink really does belong to the “props” category.

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#5 2013-05-07 17:14:52

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2153

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Dixon—it doesn’t look to me like Jerome’s definition is a joke, though of course it is hard to be certain of anything in a comic memoir. When does the tongue leave the cheek?

That people associate prop=support with prop=stage paraphernalia is certain. I confess to the confusion at an earlier point in my life. But just to be sure, I asked five people “Actors use props in their productions; why are they called props?” Four out of the five volunteered that they were called props because they propped up the production or because they were propped up on stage.

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#6 2013-05-07 19:47:46

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1780
Website

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Why do some forms feel more saliently like choppings than others? I just wrote the word exam , then decided the context called for examination , then realized, oh, there’s another chopped form. Or is it? Why does it feel so different to me than bike , ump , burbs , etc.? Or does it feel all the same to the rest of you? Is it that exam is bordering on more common for me than the other? That it doesn’t cover all the range of examination ? Or does it, for some of you? Can any of you use a phrase like “They determined, after (a) careful exam, that …” ? Does it sound odd to any of you to say “he flunked/failed his examination”?
.

Ump and burbs are both exceptional forms for me; bike is as likely to be a motorcycle as a bicycle. ( Motor-bicycle is just within the range of my experience, but seems dreadfully antiquated.) … What other differences are relevant here? Is comps (< comprehensive exam[ination]s ) more like bike or more like exam ? Lunch is a chop from luncheon ; here the chopped form is unquestionably primary for a lot of us.
.
I don’t even really know what I am asking here.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2013-05-07 21:45:12)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#7 2013-05-07 21:39:26

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

kem, I’m not a bit surprised to hear that “prop” is really an eggcorn for many. My point was, and still is, that Jerome’s mention of it gives no evidence of eggcornicity. Again— not to put too fine a point on it—his expressed understanding that “prop” is a chop of “property” (say that ten times fast) makes it extremely unlikely that he would believe it is also, presumably by some weird coincidence, a reference to propping something up. But, apart from that minor issue and FWIW, I wanna give you your props: I fully accept “prop” as an eggcorn, and a good one at that.

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#8 2013-05-07 21:53:02

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

David, I think what you’re getting at is a matter of degree. A chop “feels” less like an amputation and more like an independent word in its own right the longer we use it, especially if:
1. It takes on meanings, or even just connotations, not associated with the original word.
2. It drops meanings or connotations associated with the original word.
3. It comes to be used more and more frequently, maybe even more than the original word (at least for specific meanings). Think “fan” versus “fanatic”.
I’d say “once a chop, always a chop”, regardless of whether the word “feels” like one to you or me. We can’t rewrite etymological history and un-chop a word. Surely there are many words that have been so thoroughly chopped for so long that we don’t easily recognize them as chops at all, especially if the chop occurred during the pre-modern-English phase of the etymology, say for instance, in the Old English or Latin roots. I reckon guys like you and I will now start noticing chops we hadn’t recognized before, thanks to kem…

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#9 2013-05-08 08:46:20

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1780
Website

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Yeah, all that. I seriously do agree and think you analyzed it well. Something (else?) is still niggling at the back of my mind about it, though.
.
Re 1), the fact that bike so easily means “motorcycle” should then mean that it ceases to feel so much like a chop. It still feels like a chop to me, though. I don’t easily say bike without being aware (and expecting others to be aware) that it comes from bicycle .
.
Fan vs. fanatic is a good example.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#10 2013-05-08 09:22:05

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

DavidTuggy wrote:

...the fact that bike so easily means “motorcycle” should then mean that it ceases to feel so much like a chop. It still feels like a chop to me, though. I don’t easily say bike without being aware (and expecting others to be aware) that it comes from bicycle .

Of course it still feels like a chop to you. It is a chop, the meaning of which got more generalized after the chopping. But, I submit that if the meaning of “bike” had never been broadened to include motorcycles, it’d feel even more like a chop to you than it does. Of course, there’s no way to verify that, as we lack a hypothetical counterfactual for comparison.

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#11 2013-05-08 16:36:07

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1780
Website

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

Dixon Wragg wrote:

Of course it still feels like a chop to you. It is a chop, the meaning of which got more generalized after the chopping.

and earlier

I’d say “once a chop, always a chop”, regardless of whether the word “feels” like one to you or me. We can’t rewrite etymological history and un-chop a word.

OK, it’s a reasonable way to talk, in at least some contexts. A chop is a word which, at some point in its history, was derived by truncation from a longer form. Whether people at any other point in its history have any awareness of the fact is irrelevant. (Presumably people at the time of chopping were aware of it.)

But I had wondered not about whether these things were (ever) chops, but why some of them felt (to the awareness of this contemporary speaker) obviously like chops and others did not. I think (as a linguist) that the more basic questions have to do with what is going on in people’s minds when they use language. I cannot even begin to understand and evaluate etymological claims until I begin to understand those issues. If it is/were not a chop for contemporary speakers, and I don’t understand how chopping works synchronically, what would it mean for me to call it a chop etymologically? If it once was a chop but is so no longer (in speakers’ minds), when and how did it change? What does that kind of change look like? And so forth.

Re the first quote above, I still would ask, Why then do some other chops, whose meaning generalized/specialized after the chopping, not feel so much like chops? (Fan < fanatic being an example.)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#12 2013-05-08 19:23:23

larrybob
Eggcornista
Registered: 2007-12-27
Posts: 92

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

NY Times on mic vs. mike
It points to an early, knowing usage of “Mike” as an abbreviation for microphone. Could there be eggcornish usages of mike, though?

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#13 2013-05-08 21:48:48

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

DavidTuggy wrote:

If it is/were not a chop for contemporary speakers, and I don’t understand how chopping works synchronically, what would it mean for me to call it a chop etymologically?

Just as you said, David: “A chop is a word which, at some point in its history, was derived by truncation from a longer form.” I don’t understand your confusion about this. Am I missing something? Or are you confusing and mixing the concept of an “objective chop” (as in your definition above) with that of a “subjective chop” (a word that “feels” like a chop to some particular person)?

If it once was a chop but is so no longer (in speakers’ minds), when and how did it change? What does that kind of change look like?...Why then do some other chops, whose meaning generalized/specialized after the chopping, not feel so much like chops? (Fan < fanatic being an example.)

David, didn’t we pretty much answer that earlier in this thread (see post #8)? In addition to those general factors, there may be individual variation in people’s subjective experience of the “chopness” of some word due to the way they themselves have heard/read it used and used it themselves throughout their lives, as well as conscious or unconscious associations with the word. That’s all I can think of right now. It may be enough to explain the subjective phenomenon you’re talking about.

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#14 2013-05-08 21:52:01

Dixon Wragg
Eggcornista
From: Santa Rosa, California
Registered: 2008-07-04
Posts: 652

Re: prop, hack -- wordchops and hidden eggcorns

larrybob wrote:

NY Times on mic vs. mike
It points to an early, knowing usage of “Mike” as an abbreviation for microphone. Could there be eggcornish usages of mike, though?

I’m familiar with “mic” or “mike” as a chop of “microgram”, though I’m not sure which spelling is more common, probably “mic”. But I can’t think of a mike eggcorn…

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