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#1 2007-07-08 19:26:10

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1456

Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Google counts on July 8, 2007
24,500 “a bum steer”
Analysis by Joe Krozel

According to dictionaries which list this idiom, to give someone a “bum steer” means to provide them with incorrect directions (either intentionally or unintentionally). But I’m not exactly sure what the original imagery of “steer” is.

It would seem that if one is refering to the giving of directions, then that might involve the steering of a vehicle. But, that “steer” is a verb. There’s a noun usage of “steer” which means “a hint as to procedure,” and it sounds like this might be the sense used in this context.

The remaining noun usages of “steer” refer to animals—cattle. And, I think it is not uncommon for people to envision that a “bum steer” refers to an inferior cattle specimen …perhaps sold under false pretense. So, in this sense, when someone is given a “bum steer” they are given something that was originally thought to be useful. (I don’t see how this has any connection with giving directions, though).

So in my mind, the imagery could go either way. And that would mean that one is an eggcorn of the other. I sure wish someone would chime in and let me know just exactly which imagery is the correct one.

In the meantime, I’ll assume the animal imagery is the eggcorn and toss up a few examples where someone is “sold” a bum steer…

GS’s that suck – Page 19 – ADVriderI want my damn money back. you sold me a bum steer, a bill of goods. I shoulda bought a TT tank and bin done with it. I’m not rating your bike until I get …
www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=40269&page=19 – 89k – Supplemental Result – Cached – Similar pages

The Good News Cafe – News – The end of the world/last days?If this is the Millennial Reign, someone sold me a bum steer. I still cry and have pain. I still see funerals all the time. No, this is not the Millennial …
goodnewscafe.net/modules.php?name=News&file=showarticle&threadid=5993&page=32 – 72k – Supplemental Result – Cached – Similar pages

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#2 2007-07-08 22:54:26

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Well, you could knock me down with a feather. I’ve often heard the expression “sold me a bum steer,” and I assumed from that the animal imagery was the original form of the phrase. But the OED says no – this comes from an American adaptation of the verb “to steer,” and here “steer” means advice. So this phrase seems to be related to the expression “You steered me wrong.”

Jorkel’s instincts are therefore vindicated – the animal imagery seems to be an eggcornish reshaping of the original. We’re not used to hearing “steer” used as a noun except in reference to a male cow or ox, so we’ve reinterpreted the phrase in those terms. Selling someone an expensive but defective bull would certainly be a way of leading them astray—kinda like selling someone a “lemon.” I’m still a bit surprised. Here’s the OED definition followed by its citations:

A piece of advice or information; a tip, a lead. (See also quot. 1970.)

1899 C. H. HOYT Texas Steer (typescript) IV. 21 You’re going back to Texas to give the voters of my district a steer. What’s that steer to be?
1924, etc. [see BUM a.].
1926 Flynr’s 16 Jan. 638/2 An’ divvy with th’ crooked barkeep for a steer or some kind of a tip if th’ stunt panned out ok.
1935 L. E. LAWES Cell 202, Sing Sing iv. 553 You’re both on the wrong steer..thinkin’ about the devil when all the while it’s the man himself deserves your attention.
1959 ‘M. M. KAYE’ House of Shade x. 127 All I’ve done is to give you a wrong steer, and make bad worse.
1970 D. FRANCIS Rat Race vi. 79 I’d have to go round the Luton complex…could probably get a steer home from there, from the twenty-four hour radar.
1982 Times 21 Apr. 16/1 Steers from Smiths Industries on its financial performance are obviously worth listening to.

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#3 2007-07-09 01:27:43

huevomaiztro
Member
Registered: 2007-07-06
Posts: 23

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

I’m not sure that “sold me a bum steer” necessarily means that you got me to purchase a defective animal. Think of “sold” in the context of competitive sports, such as football or basketball, where it’s common to say that a player “sold” a defender a fake. There’s a metaphorical sense of “convinced” or “duped with.”

In that light, “sold me a bum steer” could mean that you convinced me to accept the bad advice, which preserves the original meaning of “steer” as advice or direction.

Oh, and, by the way, those who don’t know the difference between a steer and a “male cow or ox” shouldn’t eat mountain oysters until they’ve figured it out and are comfortable with the concept. Come to think of it, given that steers are useless for breeding (their sole economic purpose is to be fattened for market), it’s hard to imagine how the animal could have a hidden defect. So I’m even more convinced now that “sold me a bum steer” refers to the metaphorical sense of “sold” plus the “advice or direction” meaning of “steer”; thus, this phrase should not be a candidate for status as an eggcorn.

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#4 2007-07-09 08:32:10

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1456

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

I checked a couple other sources for “bum steer” and got

“information that is not helpful”
from TheFreeDictionary

“wrong or misleading directions given naively or on purpose”
from A Dictionary of American Idioms

Both sources give examples refering to giving physical directions …i.e., for going somewhere. And many of the examples that Pat provides could be construed either as physical directions or procedures. So, these senses of “steer” seem to be used—rather than any connection with animals.

Now, the question is whether anyone thinks “bum steer” ever refers to an animal. Others are welcome to chime in and provide examples.

Last edited by jorkel (2007-07-09 08:36:19)

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#5 2007-07-09 09:18:51

TootsNYC
Eggcornista
Registered: 2007-06-19
Posts: 263

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

turning “steer” the verb into “a steer” the noun is not that unusual a technique. (“Nouning” a verb?)

We do the same with “think” in “you’ve got another think coming.”

And I’m sure our language has “nouned” other verbs, but I can’t think of them right now.

But I’m w/ Pat—I think I’d always vaguely assumed the phrase came from the animal origins (like looking a gift horse in the mouth). I remember vaguely wondering what could possibly go wrong w/ a steer, but then I thought, maybe disease, or something that would render it inedible.

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#6 2007-07-09 12:06:02

huevomaiztro
Member
Registered: 2007-07-06
Posts: 23

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Well, well, after consulting Webster’s New Collegiate, I take back some of what I said above:
—When referring to a male bovine, a steer is a bull minus the mountain oysters.
—When referring to a male ox, a steer is merely a young ‘un; specifically, a male less than four years old.

But there is also a different entry for steer as a noun (the third entry overall):

steer n (1894): a hint as to procedure: TIP

So this nouning of a verb occurred over a century ago.

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#7 2007-07-09 17:05:56

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1456

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

It’s good to hear from you again blandford. The “think” eggcorn was a real surprise to quite a few of us. (Who knew?) I’m not sure it’s in the Database yet, but you can locate the discussion within the Forum by clicking on “Search” in the menu bar above and entering “think” in the first entry field.

If you want, you can edit your old post by clicking on “Edit” then going over to the double dashes and making sure they are separated from the surrounding text with a space. That should fix the cross-out problem. (Then you can go back to your other post which mentions the mistake and simply “Delete” it). I think we’ve all gone through this learning curve at some point or other.

Thanks for adding to the “bum steer” debate.

Last edited by jorkel (2007-07-09 17:07:47)

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#8 2007-07-09 23:25:12

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

This is interesting. I’ve gone looking for “another think/thing coming” before, and if I remember correctly, the authorities I’ve found assure us that “think” preceded “thing” and that “think” is the standard form. And sure enough, the OED says that “thing” is a misapprehension of “think” (see the bracketed comment in the second OED quotation below). But guess what? I decided to go look at their “thing” article, and the earliest citation for “thing coming” predates the earliest for “think” by 18 years. Of course, that doesn’t prove that “think” didn’t precede “thing” in speech, but I wish they’d given a little more information. Here are the entries:

b. to have another think coming: to be greatly mistaken. 1937 Amer. Speech XII. 317/1 Several different statements used for the same idea that of some one’s making a mistake…[e.g.] you have another think coming. 1942 T. BAILEY Pink Camellia xxvii. 199 If you think you can get me out of Gaywood, you have another think coming. 1979 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts CXXVII. 221/2 Any design consultant who thinks he is going to get British Leyland right by himself on his own has got another think coming.

to have another thing coming [arising from misapprehension of to have another think coming s.v. THINK n. 2b] = to have another think coming s.v. THINK n. 2b. 1919 Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald 12 Aug. 8/3 If you think the life of a movie star is all sunshine and flowers you’ve got another thing coming. 1959 Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) Herald 22 Aug. 20/3 Magistrate Edward Robey told them: ‘Please tell your friends in France that if any more come over here thinking they can put money in slot machines and get money galore, they have got another thing coming.’ 1971 N.Y. Times 26 Feb. 37/4 One of those taken into custody identified himself as ‘very prominent in the community’ and declared, ‘After this, if the police think they are getting a raise they’ve got another thing coming.’ 1981 J. SULLIVAN Only Fools & Horses (1999) I. 1st Ser. Episode 1. 57 Del. If you think I’m staying in a lead-lined nissan hut with you and Grandad and a chemical bloody khazi you’ve got another thing coming. 1998 A. O’HANLON Talk of Town (1999) I. iv. 60 If you think you’re getting into my knickers, you have another thing coming.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2007-07-09 23:28:26)

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#9 2007-07-09 23:41:58

booboo
Eggcornista
From: Austin, Tx
Registered: 2007-04-01
Posts: 179

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

I’ve always thought of it as an animal, but used as an allegory of being cheated, misled or taken advantage of. In the sense of “He got my goat” or “He sold me a pig in a poke”.....Man, if we had an animal subcategory it would be really cool…..

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#10 2007-07-10 00:06:08

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Oh, and take it from the proud holder of an ag degree: Steers is bulls. But bulls ain’t nessuhsairly steers.

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#11 2007-07-10 01:28:28

huevomaiztro
Member
Registered: 2007-07-06
Posts: 23

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

The holder of an ag degree came up with male cow? I’m shocked!

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#12 2007-07-10 03:01:45

patschwieterman
Administrator
From: California
Registered: 2005-10-25
Posts: 1665

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Huevomaiztro is not the first one to be shocked at my use of “male cow.” My mom grew up on a farm, and when I was 13, we did a tour of the relatives’ homes in South Dakota and Minnesota in the company of a number of my cattlemen relatives. As we were passing a farm, I pointed to a particular animal. Having my background, I knew there was a difference between bulls and steers, but I didn’t know what it was. So I finessed the issue by referring to a “male cow.” Cousin Ed lectured me all the way over the border into SD. When he was done, I pointed to a field full of cattle—of mixed gender—and asked him whether they were all “cows.” He said, “Yes.” Then I pointed to one that was obviously male, and asked whether that cow wasn’t male. He was a genial sort, so he laughed and gave up. My mom—farmgirl that she is—has corrected my siblings and me numerous times in this regard. I’m sticking to my guns.

Here’s the problem: we don’t have a good generic for the singular of “cows” in English. What do you call those things in the singular? In the plural, they’re cows—and that applies to both male and female. (Some cattlemen will actually tell you that’s wrong—but I’ll get to that.) In the singular, they’re technically bulls and cows. But that’s problematic, too. In technical usage among my cattlemen relatives, steers and bulls are different: steers are castrated. This is no doubt what Huevomaiztro was thinking in the first post s/he made before he or she went and looked at dictionary definitions. But plenty of people who know what they’re talking about refer to all male cows as bulls, and dictionaries regularly define steers as “castratrated bulls.” But you can easily get into an argument using only terms for which there is good authority.

So when you’re talking to laymen, what do you call the animals in question? I thought of using “male bovine,” but that creates all sorts of problems. Technically, animals that don’t belong to the same species as those we normally call “cows” are “bovines.” (Though technically, some people object to “bovines” as a plural noun. But technically you can find good authority for the usage.) So that feels a bit too non-specific. Huevomaiztro had the same thought I originally did, and wrote this:

—When referring to a male bovine, a steer is a bull minus the mountain oysters.
—When referring to a male ox, a steer is merely a young ‘un; specifically, a male less than four years old.

Since a male ox is, in fact a male bovine, the distinction Huevomaiztro was trying to make doesn’t quite come across. But I’m not shocked at the problem Huevomaiztro ran into. I’m sympathetic and don’t want to get ironic about his or her plight—he or she was trying to deal with the same terminological maze I was trying to deal with. (And I’ll be nice about the dangling modifier “referring,” too, since I will probably commit a dangling modifier in this long post. (It’s called “Skitt’s Law,” Huevomaiztro.))

And Cousin Ed would hang us both from a yardarm—or whatever the farm equivalent is. For modern cattlemen, saying a “male ox” is silly, since, well, oxen are (castrated) males by cattlemen’s definition. In fact, some people use “steers” for oxen. But—technically!—many people will say that’s incorrect, since oxen are steers who have been trained to pull a plow. (And, please, don’t think of arguing with me about the spelling of “plow.””) But, technically, that itself is incorrect—or at least not sufficiently specific contextually— since you can make a good argument for saying that oxen are, technically, cows. In fact, technically, you can make a good argment for saying that all cows are oxen, and vice versa. But technically—in the context of modern agriculture, in the US—at least, you can say on good authority that that’s technically wrong.

Some cattlemen object to the use of “cows” for both male and female animals; they say you should say “cattle.” But that’s a problem—you can’t say “three cattles.” And not everyone knows “heads of cattle,” and it’s long. And then you run into the problem that you can refer to a number of species with “cattle.” So we’re back where we started.

People have tried to create gender-neutral terms, but they (ie., the terms) haven’t caught on—I can’t rember any or find an eg. quickly with google, but I know they’re out there.

This stuff is a terminological mess.

My solution is to use “male cow.” I’m not the first cow- and word-savvy person to make this argument, either. A few years ago, there was an argument about this on alt.usage.english, but for some reason I can’t find it with a fast googling. I think the person grew up on a farm and was a linguist, but he argued for “male cow” on just the grounds I’m using. “Male cow” is in fairly wide use (15k ghits) though it’s hardly accepted in formal usage, everyone knows what you mean, and if we don’t use it, this commonsense term won’t become standard usage. Also, I can use this term. I’ve done tons of research on this very topic, and anyone who wants to argue with me will find I know my stuff. I ‘ve collected info on this because I’ve thought of bringing together my areas of academic expertise and writing an article on this very problem (it’s fascinating—really), but it’s such a labyrinth I’ve never managed to get it together. I’m not at home at the moment, it’s 1130 PM, and I don’t want to take the time to do a bunch of searches to prove all the stuff I just said—it’d take forever, and I want to have dinner, dammit. Or damn it. Or whatever you pedants will allow me. But just point to a claim you find doubtful, and we’ll take it from there. But if there’s a typo somewhere in all this, I ain’t gonna go lookin fur it. I think pointing out penny-ante slip-ups in others’ posts is sorta penny-ante, and I just don’t want to be worrying about it.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2007-07-10 03:06:34)

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#13 2007-07-10 12:43:07

booboo
Eggcornista
From: Austin, Tx
Registered: 2007-04-01
Posts: 179

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

Man, that’s a lot of stuff to write about cows. All because the general term and the female term are the same. Who was stupid enough to come up with that? Pigs are pigs. The female is a sow and the male is a boar. Why in the hell don’t we have the equivilent with cows? Some female cows having horns doesn’t help, either. English was definitely given a bum steer somewhere along the line.

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#14 2007-07-10 13:37:31

huevomaiztro
Member
Registered: 2007-07-06
Posts: 23

Re: Bum steer ...stealth eggcorn?

patschwieterman wrote:

I’ve done tons of research on this very topic, and anyone who wants to argue with me will find I know my stuff.

I wasn’t fishing for an argument, but I’m glad to have given you the opening to share this area of your expertise. I would think that, based on your experience, you would agree with me: It is shocking to find someone with an ag degree who is not on the “male cow is an oxymoron” side of this issue.

I hope you do have the opportunity to write up your research some day. If you do, I would like to read it.

Last edited by huevomaiztro (2007-07-10 13:39:18)

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