Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I’m not trying to rant at any-/everybody—I write to express my hope that we can improve the Eggcorn Database.
I think it’s interesting—a little bit interesting—to see how folks misuse language. It also bothers me, though, to focus on these faults; It seems to me to be a little bit like focussing on people’s dirty laundry. Unfortunately, the Eggcorn Database sometimes seems like we’re trying to yell “Gotcha!” every time somebody makes a mistake. I want to urge my fellow forum members: Let’s, please, look for the jewels, the real eggcorns, in language usage, and bring up the quality of the database. As I understand it, an eggcorn isn’t just a misspelling of a word; It’s the use of a homonym, or in the case of the eggcorn, a combination of words, to substitute for the ‘mot juste.’ The interest comes because of the different and/or similar meanings associated with the eggcorn and the target word. I would note, we have a category ofSlips, innovations and reshapings, Discussions about things that aren’t (necessarily) eggcorns
Quality sometimes develops from sharpening one’s standards, differentiating between things, comparing and contrasting them, and attributing value to them. I’m urging that we place greater value on finding eggcorns than on spelling mistakes.
Please, fellow forum members, before posting, ask yourself if what you’re posting is simply a misspelling, however often used, rather than an eggcorn.
And can we start collecting Mondegreens, which as I get it, are eggcorn song lyrics? (I invite sharpening of the definition.)
Thanks for your attention.
Although I prefer posting linguistic oddities to engaging in debate, as one of the more prolific contibutors to this site, I feel an urge to respond to Gordon’s critique.Gordon accuses us of playing ‘gotcha’ and poking fun at people’s mistakes. This has certainly never been my intent, nor do I think that it motivates most other contributors. Personally, I’m left-libertarian. I like change, diversity, evolution and variety. I dislike snobs and linguistic prescriptivists. Eggcorns, as I understand them, are not mistakes; rather, they are a minor but charming offshoot of the glorious process of language change. In a small way, they illustrate how spontaneous, distributed variation and selection generate order. Reading the founding documents of the eggcorn idea, here and on Language Log, you find writers who are open, curious, respectful and amused. I got started because I admired that attitude, not because I like to assert my superiority over people who can’t spell. However, I will agree with Gordon that ‘eggcorn’ is a vague concept, and nowhere more so than in the case of one-word reshapings. I think that there are semantic intuitions driving the substitution of, e.g., ‘purient’ for ‘prurient’ but it’s a question that reasonable folk can disagree about. In any case, eggcorn canonization is a two step process, and most proposed contributions don’t make it into the database. So I don’t worry much about proposing marginal cases. Finally, we’re far enough along that it makes sense to separate the wheat from the chaff. Would anyone like to offer a list of their top 10 or 25 eggcorns?
You beat me to the punch on a number of points, Ken. And my response to Gordon’s post has grown so long (pages plural) I’m trying to decide whether I’ll post it or not.
In the meantime, though, are you thinking of the top 25 eggcorns already in the Database, or those suggested in Contribute, or both? There’s the added problem that the older “Contribute” pages aren’t currently accessible. Your “one-trip pony” is definitely one of my favorites, but it’s invisible right now; there may be many others I don’t remember as well.
Hi Pat.I’d be interested in anyone’s top 25- no strings attached. And I agree that there are some buried gems in the old comments section; not necessarily my own entries. I also hope Chris puts it back up some day, although she’s already contributedd so much heavy lifting that it seems churlish to ask for more work from her.
Agreed—I hope my comments aren’t read as criticizing in any way Chris’s amazing efforts on behalf of us eggcorn fans. (Happy New Year, Chris, and thanks!) I just wanted to call attention to those “buried gems” before anyone tried to compile a “definitive” list.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2006-01-03 01:33:59)
[This is long. I pretty much agree with Ken’s first post on this thread; if you’re looking for a succinct reply to Gordon, count me as giving a hearty endorsement to Ken’s words, and read no further. I started writing my response before Ken’s post went up, and I’ve decided to keep it as it was; as a result, there’s a bit of duplication at points. Also, I make a living teaching English, and my opinion on whether eggcorns are technically mistakes or not differs a bit from Ken’s – at least on the face of it. But ultimately I don’t think we’re all that far apart in our attitudes towards eggcorns, malapropisms, and their authors.]
Gordon worries that a lot of the posts in “Contribute” are essentially playing “Gotcha!” and focusing too much on “people’s dirty laundry” and “faults”; he feels we should be looking for eggcorns instead. I’m not at all sure why Gordon feels posting an “eggcorn” has less potential to offend than posting a “misspelling.” But his basic concern is certainly a worthy one: I don’t believe any of the regulars here would like to see the Database and associated pages devolve into a forum that belittles supposedly “ignorant” or “uneducated” uses of language. Personally, I detest knee-jerk prescriptivism, and I’m actually filled with . . . what? . . . wonder? awe? gratitude? . . . all of those, I guess, at the endless linguistic ingenuity showcased on this website. One of the things that originally attracted me to the Eggcorn Database was that the regulars – in particular Chris Waigl and Arnold Zwicky – took such obvious delight in the reshapings they were collecting and had pretty sharp words for anyone who dismissed them as the products of “ignorance.” My kind of people. I teach English courses, and I know at first hand that absolutely brilliant and well-educated writers regularly commit eggcorns, malapropisms and misspellings. I’m paid to enforce conventional standards, and for better or worse I take that role very seriously. But when I discover “take it for granite” in a student paper, I feel a sense of real pleasure that’s absolutely not tinctured with ridicule or mockery (and then I circle the phrase and write the standard one next to it . . .). A student who writes that eggcorn doesn’t yet have a firm grip on the conventional form of a familiar idiom, but I appreciate that they’re actively engaging with their language and trying to make sense of its quirks – and “take it for granite” really does make a lot of sense. As far as I can tell, pretty much all the regulars here share this view. Look, for instance, at the reactions to the now-famous “be who of” reshaping for “behoove.” Some of the visitors to the site had unfortunately nasty things to say about it, but all the regulars who commented on it were absolutely enthralled with what the reanalysis revealed about people’s analysis of obscure English phrases. Admittedly, even some of the regulars may occasionally express a bit of exasperation at a few of the things posted here, but I’m honestly surprised that anyone who’s followed the site would feel that we’re regularly mocking or ridiculing the people who provide us with raw material.
With all of that said, I’m not at all sure how we can collect eggcorns without in some way airing people’s dirty linguistic laundry. We can identify reshapings only by contrast with the language’s formal conventions of usage and orthography; by those standards, eggcorns inevitably fall into the category of “mistakes.” Recently, a person who posted a comment on the entry for “Willow the Wisp” in the Database complained that all the information on the “will-o-the-wisp” there was wrong. With maybe just a touch of impatience, Chris Waigl agreed but responded that ”[t]his site collects errors, after all.” And her point’s well taken: this website is fundamentally about collecting certain kinds of “faults” or “mistakes” or “errors” in English usage. Some of the errors displayed here are more instructive and/or entertaining than others, but they’re all examples of deviations from the conventional norms. But the fact that we collect such errors doesn’t by itself mean that we’re belittling the people who produce them. In fact, I suspect that the people who frequent this website understand far better than the average user of the language that reshapings and misspellings are generally the results of natural linguistic processes that have nothing to do with education or intelligence.
And I do worry about the possibility that people who find their own particular use of a word or phrase listed here will feel mocked if they don’t take the time to look around. I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last month because my posting for “advent reef” now has the highest number of hits of any post on the website. I’d like to believe that that’s due to the sheer brilliance of the post. But I know exactly why “advent reef” got so many “views” in the weeks right before Christmas, and it has nothing to do with the inherent interest of the reshaping itself. If you go to Google and punch in “advent reef,” my post is the very first hit returned (or at least it was a few weeks ago, when I noticed the view numbers on the post rising dramatically). And, unfortunately, when I compiled my examples, I placed first a citation drawn from an online catalogue selling advent wreaths – meaning that people who clicked on the Eggcorn site thought they were going to one where they could purchase a holiday item. I felt a little bad when I realized what was going on, and I hope that none of my would-be “customers” felt ridiculed when they saw their error laid out right out before their eyes. I even considered editing the post, but by that time there were so many hits it no longer seemed to matter. And, on the other hand, I was unwittingly doing our Advent-period guests a bit of a service: you’ll get far more hits (and therefore maybe a better price) if you google “advent wreath,” so at least a few people probably benefitted in an immediate way from the experience. And – who knows? – maybe some of the people who made their way here to buy an advent reef have stuck around and become Database regulars. (Welcome!)
Yes, a posting on “advent reef” might have the potential to offend some people who regularly employ that reshaping. But you simply can’t analyze variations in linguistic usage without running the risk of annoying some of the people using the non-standard variations; everyone considers their own usage “standard” until a deviation from the norm is pointed out, and a few people are always going to take offense at having their own non-standard usage spotlighted – no matter how diplomatically or “scientifically” or “objectively” it’s done. But I think it’s really more likely that people will benefit from knowing just what the standards are. At least one popular site on English usage has linked to this site, and I see many ways in which the Eggcorn Database (including the posts and discussions on Contribute) could be beneficial for those seeking to learn more about the topic.
Gordon also feels that contributors aren’t taking pains to gauge the eggcornicity of their posts: “Please, fellow forum members, before posting, ask yourself if what you’re posting is simply a misspelling, however often used, rather than an eggcorn.” I agree that this is a necessary step; but I’m unconvinced that this step isn’t already being taken most of the time. Ken and I between us account for the great majority of posts that have gone up in Contribute since the site was overhauled. I think we have slightly different criteria for what constitutes an eggcorn – doesn’t everyone? – but it’s clear that we do both have criteria that we’re regularly applying before any post goes up. That’s really all that can be asked of an individual contributor – I don’t like the idea that every post must represent a “jewel . . . in language usage.” Who’s going to post if they suspect that that kind of stringent standard will be applied? I’d hate to think that someone might avoid calling our attention to an interesting reshaping because they’re not sure their post will come up to our exacting standards. At least in Contribute, inclusivity should be our touchstone. As Ken pointed out, the site already has a two-step selection process in place. I hope that each member will carefully consider whether a post should go into Contribute or Slips. But I don’t want to be paralyzed by self-censorship; I’m quite content to have the site’s gatekeepers – Chris, Arnold, Ben, etc. – fulfill the gatekeeping function.
Gordon seems to be calling for more emphasis on homophones per se in order to avoid filling up Contribute with mere misspellings: “As I understand it, an eggcorn isn’t just a misspelling of a word; It’s the use of a homonym, or in the case of the eggcorn, a combination of words, to substitute for the ‘mot juste.’” (I’m assuming here that by “homonym” Gordon means what I’d typically call a “homophone.”) This comment has me puzzled. It’s precisely the postings that are based on homophones that most clearly run the risk of being “mere” misspellings. Take for example one of the most recent additions to the Database: “chicken catchitore.” “Catch” and the first syllable of “cacciatore” are indeed homophones for many speakers. I can’t find any solid evidence that people who employ this reanalysis are really thinking of the implications of “catch” in the word. And isn’t “catchitore” (and its variants) the most obvious way of misspelling “cacciatore”? “Cachitore” is perhaps a possibility, but it looks odd, perhaps precisely because “catch” is so familiar; “catch” is such a common word in English that it provides a powerful – almost irresistible – template for anyone deciding how to represent the same sequence of sounds in another word. I think the word is a charming misspelling, but I’m unconvinced that it’s a true eggcorn. And that’s the problem with making homophones the main focus of the site: unless the misspelling seems somehow unexpected , there’s a risk that you’re dealing with a simple misspelling. One-word homophones are really the reanalyses that require the most scrutiny, and I’ve tended to avoid them unless I felt there was a pretty good reason for believing that a truly eggcornish reshaping was at work. Still, I stick by the principle of inclusion I championed in the last paragraph: I may not agree with Arnold Zwicky’s defense of “catchitore,” but his comments are linguistically interesting, and that’s more important than whether a given entry is a true eggcorn.
I do agree with Gordon that the “Slips, etc.” page is underused, but that’s probably just a matter of time. If the site develops a certain minimum number of regular contributors who make the distinction (and are willing to consign their post to the “lower prestige” page), that’ll improve.
I don’t, however, think that blanket critiques leveled at everyone who posts here are all that helpful – they’re too vague to change anybody’s behavior. Someone who feels a post on Contribute doesn’t come up to the basic minimum standards for an eggcorn should hit the “Post reply” button and spell out the basis for their difference of opinion. A little more dialogue on the site might help us to define “eggcorn” more precisely.
And – perhaps ironically – that’s why I’m ultimately grateful to Gordon for being the first person to step up and use the Soapbox even though I disagree with most of his points. We need more discussion.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2006-01-03 08:25:05)
As a new member, I have tried hard to make sure that my submissions are true eggcorns, and I certainly don’t feel censorious or disdainful about them or their authors. One question, though. Most submissions list a large number of ghits. There’s an implication that an eggcorn must be a common misshaping resulting from folk etymology or faulty analysis. My submission “tramsteamer” for “tramp steamer,” however, seems to be a nonce word or hapax legomenon (I’ve always wanted to write that ever since I studied Greek 37 years ago in college!) Is it therefore not an eggcorn? Chris? Anyone?
Pat Schwieterman responded on the level I’d hoped to reach with my comment. I should have written “homophone” rather than the “homonym” that I learned so many years ago. I wasn’t trying to write a blanket condemnation of Ken Lakritz, although I was aware of the many postings he makes, or anyone else.
I’d agree that my use of the word “jewel” is excessively demanding. I WAS trying to differentiate a choice of the wrong word(s) (which sound(s) correct) to express an idea, as opposed to a misspelling of the correct word. Pat’s student’s “taking for granite,” which would be an eggcorn by anybody’s measure, is evidence that the student heard the phrase and wondered what it was and what it meant, and wasn’t simply a misspelling. Likewise, Fishbait’s tramsteamer seems to me an eggcorn, not a simple misspelling and more than a nonce word (why not “an once word”?).
Arnold Zwicki’s ‘catchitore’ is a bit of an eggcorn, because it DOES apply a homophone word, although the originator may have either been entirely ignorant that s/he was dealing with an Italian word, or aware but unable to spell in Italian. (The latter would seem to be borne out by the use of question marks by some who wrote ‘catchitore.’) I agree that this is charming misspelling, nothing more.
Update: I’m happy to report that “advent reef” currently has 2534 views on Nov 30, 2009; it’s here: http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/viewtopic.php?id=32
I came here looking to buy an advent colander for my wife for Christmas, and maybe a coral wreath as an unusual door decoration.
Seems I came to the wrong place for ether, but I got a few laughs anyway.
I agree we should set the bar low for people to contribute and not deter new (or old, or even longstanding) members from making suggestions and contributions.
I agree we should keep the bar high for actual entries in the database taken from contributions.
I agree that some mispelings are simply of interest to discuss and debate their possible origins, even without them being true eggcorns, and with no intention of pointing the finger at the uneducated and unwashed and saying “hah! you made a misteak!”
Would it be possible to add a poll to a contribution thread after initial discussions, allowing people to then vote it in or out? (and add a post reply to bump the thread so it shows up in “posts since last visit”)
Another site I used to frequent was moviemistakes.com and was a very regular poster in the forums there. Some would criticise the site for the same reasons we are discussing here – is its purpose simply to be snarky and point out the errors made by others? Not at all, it is simply the same as any collector wanting lots of specimens of different kinds. The explanation and correction of mistakes was just as enjoyable as finding them in the first place.
The “Pizza-fuelled net pedants” were always happy to debate a range of topics, and because of the international membership and perhaps the nature of films being translated / dubbed / subtitled, language often seemed to creep into the mix with interesting diversions on the fluidity, flexibility and flavoursomeness of the changing landscape of language. (There was also a huge incredulity over the poor spelling and grammar of many mistake submitters – odd that people pedantic enough to notice a continuity flaw in a film would not see their own missing punctuation marks.)
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