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Chris -- 2015-05-30

#1 2013-07-24 13:31:37

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2330

five hidden eggcorns and one not so hidden

More hidden eggcorns on the menu today. These invisible slips are the shipworms of speech, quietly compromising the semantic hull of the barque of language.

(1) I was surprised to learn that the German noun “das Leid,” pain/injury, is unrelated to the German verb “ leiden ” to suffer. The linguistic historian Andrew Sihler explains the confusion.

(2) When we get a come-hither look, we hope it’s from a comely person. The “come” in “comely,” however, seems to derive from an old Teutonic term for exquisite/delicate. On its way to the modern meaning, “comely” was confused, early in its evolution, as a cognate of “come” and endowed with some of its semantics.

(3) I have always assumed “éminence grise,” gray eminence, related somehow to gray hair, referring perhaps to a hoary elder leaning in to whisper sound advice. The phrase that the French loaned to English, however, originally referred to a less worthy person, a manipulating pseudo-cardinal. The Dutch scholar H. S. Versnel explains in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review blog how the etymological mixup has influenced the semantic import of the term:

In my desire to extend the highest praise for the intellectual giant whom I have admired since my student days, I wrote: “Jean-Pierre Vernant, initiator, indefatigable patron, and till his death in 2007 the eminence grise of what is generally referred to as the École de Paris” (p. 26). When reading Professor Bonnet’s indignant reaction: “Je me permets d’ajouter qu’une figure aussi immense, sur le plan scientifique et humain, que Vernant mérite assurément mieux que la qualification d’« éminence grise »” I realized my blunder. The inhabitants of such a negligible little country as the Netherlands easily tend to develop a sense of inferiority. They try to mend this by using as many foreign words as possible, often in a surprisingly unexpected sense. In Dutch dictionaries you will find for eminence grise: ‘elderly person (gray hair!) of high (eminent!) authority in a special field’. In French dictionaries, as I now recalled, the term never lost its original reference to the Capuchin abbé (gray habit) Père Joseph, assistant of Cardinal Richelieu (the éminence rouge due to his red cappa magna). Thus jokingly referred to as ‘éminence (which he was not) grise’ he was a man of inferior rank with some influence but (sneakily) active only behind the scenes. Hence what in Dutch ears is understood as highest praise, to the French sounds as a very dubious designation

(4) The American idiom “ pass the buck ” may not include, as many people think, the slang term “buck” (= dollar). The Phrase Finder site explains that the orignial “buck” was really a token – often a knife – used to indicated the dealer in a poker game. When, however, the site goes on to say that

silver dollars were later used as markers and this is probably the origin of the use of buck as a slang term for dollar

it may have overreached: “Buck” was used as a term for a dollar before the earliest citation of “pass the buck.”

(5) Is it possible that some of the people who say/hear “ werewolf ” hear the past tense of “to be” embedded in the word? The monsters seemed to be human, but they were really wolves.

A non-hidden eggcorn may also lurk here. “Werewolf” has two pronunciations in English: the “were – wolf” just mentioned, and “wear – wolf.” The web has many examples of “werewolf” spelled as “wearwolf.” The majority of these are probably phonetic misspellings, but some of those writing the first syllable as “wear” may think that the mythical beast is a person who wears a wolf inside (or outside, if the moon is full).

Last edited by kem (2013-07-24 13:33:11)



#2 2013-07-24 16:29:11

From: Montreal
Registered: 2008-03-17
Posts: 1036

Re: five hidden eggcorns and one not so hidden

So that’s what an éminence grise is. I always thought it referred to an influential person who is not a public figure, but keeps to the shadows, hence the grise.

As if he were wolf, and wearwolf, are beauties. What about a potential role for the weird in all the sightings of weirwolves on the net, far from reservoirs. My Spanish friend had innumerable piquant turns of phrase in English, but pronouncing anything weird as were always put it in an interesting light.



#3 2013-07-24 22:42:00

From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2330

Re: five hidden eggcorns and one not so hidden

an influential person who is not a public figure, but keeps to the shadows, hence the grise.

Makes sense. Borrowed phrases are pots in which many stews can be boiled.

When looking the phrase up on the web, I came across a punning reference to Dick Clark as an “éminence grease.”

Then there is the question how to pronounce it, the French way, a slightly englishified way, or a really englishified way.



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