Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
There’s already an entry in the forum for “Love is many splendid things” instead of “Love is a many-splendored thing.” I’m posting this separately, because its strangeness to me is that it doesn’t work syntactically at all. I wonder if people who say this are thinking of “many” as a kind of intensifying adverb—something like “very.”
My first sighting was in a personal ad in New York magazine, and I thought the New York pronunciation with its dropped “r”s was responsible. However, it’s everywhere these days, and it doesn’t seem to be related to an “r”-dropping accent. I got 14,900 Google hits for “a many splendid thing.” Below are some examples:
A cover story in Wine News:
“Loire – a many splendid thing”
The title of a piece at
Remarkably, Nat King Cole’s album offered on e-Bay, which shows a picture of the album and lists the title of the track correctly.
http://cgi.ebay.com/Nat-King-Cole-Love- … dZViewItem
The title of a post on a screenwriters’ blogspot:
http://swritersleague.blogspot.com/2007 … thing.html
An online Tutoring Sample, in which the tutor does not address the misuse of “splendid”
http://www.fordham.edu/campus_resources … _10443.asp
I’ve always wondered what is going on inside the head of someone who says (or writes), “Love is a many splendid thing,” but I haven’t figured out how to ask this clearly (and nicely).
I think this is a fascinating one, for a variety of reasons. Consider the syntactical strangeness of “many-splendored thing” as the equivalent of “thing of many splendors.” Is there a verb “to splendor”? How rarely do we use “splendors” in the plural? Even in non R-less dialects, the “r” in the cluster “splendored thing” is extraordinarily difficult to pronounce. And finally, does anyone know this phrase other than as a song lyric?
What we have here, I think, is a mondegreen-
a misheard and reshaped song lyric-which has escaped its original context and is now roaming free. “Many splendid thing” may not mean anything, but I’m pretty sure that to many of the people who use it, “many-splendored thing” doesn’t mean anything either.
Apropos of very little, I once took some pictures of a certain well-known yellow box on the lawn and called it my “Splenda in the Grass” series.
The song and the movie screenplay seem to be paraphrasing (very loosely) “The Kingdom of God”—a poem by Francis Thompson, a British Catholic poet of the Victorian period. Here’s the fourth stanza:
The angels keep their ancient places—Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
Thompson died in 1907, but the poem had some fame during his lifetime, and you can still find it on religious websites—along with his most famous work, “The Hound of Heaven.” And David, you may be interested to know that the Wikipedia article on Thompson attributes a phrase used in a landmark Supreme Court decision to that latter poem:
His most famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven” describes the pursuit of the human soul by God. This poem is the source of the phrase, “with all deliberate speed,” used by the Supreme Court in Brown II, the remedy phase of the famous decision on school desegregation.
(And hey, that was long before the Court was full of Catholic justices.)
I checked Literature Online, but couldn’t find any uses of the phrase before Thompson.
The phrase sure does sound odd—I have vague memories of being confused by it as a kid. But it’s actually part of a pattern of (weird) compounds involving “many” and a noun. “Many-headed,” “many-hued,” “many-storied,” and “many-windowed” all get tens of thousands of ghits, and most of those don’t (obviously) involve a verb. But they sure
feel old-fashioned these days.
And finally, does anyone know this phrase other than as a song lyric?
What we have here, I think, is a mondegreen…
Granted “many-splendored” appears in a song’s lyrics, I think it’s more than just the usual Mondegreen. Most Mondegreens arise from a lack of clarity of (sung) speech. However, this example may actually derive from a refusal to hear the words as they are clearly conveyed: I think the eggcorn “many-splendid” would arise without the song, but the song seems to be the only widely-known use of the word (with all due respect for Pat’s literary examples).
I’m not sure that I personally ever heard the song, but as a young person I first saw the song title handwritten on a box by a teenager. My initial thought was that the word should be “many-splendid.” My second thought was that the teenager misunderstood that and made the additional mistake of misspelling “many-splintered”—as if that were a word (and as if it made any sense). So, I had firsthand confusion over this word in written form.
I’m prone to classify this one as an eggcorn. (But since I haven’t heard it sung, I can’t say whether it’s a Mondegreen for some).
I should have remembered the First Law of Word-Hunting in my earlier post: Check the OED first! Turns out that the OED has an entry for “many-splendored,” with a citation that predates Thompson:
1858 Southern Lit. Messenger 28 7 In the night-time, come the spirits, yet if the night be *many-splendoured they come not.
a1907 F. THOMPSON Kingdom of God in Sel. Poems (1908) 131 ‘Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces, That miss the many-splendoured thing.
1962 Sunday Times 25 Nov. (Colour Suppl.) 29 (title) The many-splendoured fisherman.
1980 S. TROTT When your Lover Leaves (1981) 65 My life seemed so boring to describe and yet to me it was rich and many-splendoured.
That said, I personally wouldn’t consider “many-splendid” an eggcorn. An eggcorn has to be a fundamental reinterpretation of the meaning of a word. “Many-splendid” substitutes the adjective “splendid” for a less familiar adjective based on the closely related noun “splendor.” I think most speakers would instantly recognize the connection between the two words. And even though the meaning of “splendid” is broader than that of “splendor,” the semantic overlap is still pretty clear. Both phrases create the same meaning through essentially the same thought process, so the unexpected shift in perspective needed for an eggcorn seems to me missing here. .
Thanks, Pat. I should have realized that “many-splendored” could hardly have originated with the lyricist of a popular song. Think of “the days of wine and roses,” from Dawson. I’m sure a fair number of people recognized these references when the songs first came out.
What’s more, I know/remember the “Hound of Heaven” from high school (we read poetry in class back then! in public school! those feet following after!) although I don’t think I’ve read the “Kingdom of God.” I’m gonna look it up.
I’ve gotta run at the moment, so I haven’t time to do any research, but I’m wondering about the English construction “many-x’d” as the equivalent of, or derived from, the numerous Greek adjectives in “poly- ” like our “polydactyl,,” many-fingered. Odysseus is famously “polytropos,” “many-wayed,” i.e., master of many stratagems or quick-witted. A Greek Lexicon would show hundreds more, and the custom of “construing” would have introduced lots of them into English.
Others echo the sentiment. There are about 10 unique hits. No “many-specialed” things though. It seems to fit suzie’s theory about many being understood as very, or maybe in many ways.
Love is a many special thing, and most of us can not understand it most of the time.
love, love, love its a many special thing that some of us achieve and some of us fail
http://consciousevolution.com/LindaGood … pics/70440
Last edited by burred (2012-10-10 22:38:02)