Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
As a kid, I was a voracious reader, and I read well above my grade level in school. As a result, there were words I read and could understand because of the context but had never heard anyone speak. One of these was “melancholy,” which I read as muh-LANCH-oh [or uh]-lee. I knew basically what it meant but had not heard the word MEL-on-col-lie (or at least did not associate it.
In some cases these were foreign-based terms:
I pronounced French names the way you might if they were English. Francois was Frankoyce instead of Frahn-SWAH. And I pronounced Navajo with a “J” sound instead of the Spanish “H” sound (NAV-a-jo).
It must run in the family: My mom saw the word “knowledge” and thought it was NO-ledge.
I know these are not eggcorns, but they are of linguistic interest and could make for some lively discussion.
Did you have words when you were a kid that you mispronounced based on reading them before you had heard them?
Last edited by JonW719 (2007-10-15 15:45:13)
Feeling quite combobulated.
My daughter is 13, and over the years I’ve heard her mispronounce so many words—the Alamo as “the a-LAH-mo,” for example.
It always makes sense, and it’s a fun reminder that these words I know without thinking about, I had to learn some time.
I remember a friend talking about “SAH-voring” wine (instead of “SAY-voring” is)—h was about 24. He clearly knew what it was, but had probably never actually heard anyone say it.
My grandfather grew up speaking French in New York State, which makes this a little harder to understand. He apparently hated his father, and I believe partly for that reason changed his name when he was a very young man. Only my grandmother knew the details because he kept his “past name” completely hidden, even his children didn’t know his birth name until Grandma told them after he died.
He chose the name Maurice Lyon Xavier. I think I was told he got the name, or part of it anyway, from choosing words from magazines he read.
Anyway, he pronounced his name “Morris,” and since all adults called him that it was some time before I realized that it was spelled Maurice. I’m not sure why he read the word Maurice as Morris, given that he grew up speaking French, that’s the part I don’t understand.
My son does this all the time, he’s hyperlexic (meaning is reading skills are more advanced than his comprehension) and he reads the most unbelievable things, sometimes it takes me a while to understand what he’s talking about and then it blows my mind. But his primary reading language is Hebrew, so it’s hard for me to give good examples in English… oh, here’s one: the other day he told me that Gulliver studied at Kambarideg University.
One of the first books I read on my own was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”: I thought it was about a little girl called Lucky.
I also used to pronounce the “p” in pnemonia, and up to about a year ago I thought the word “dour” was pronounced “dower” – until two different people corrected me in the same week.
I’m sure I have plenty of errors of this type, as I picked up most of my vocabulary from reading. Living in Israel, but being online all the time, I get a lot more opportunities to exercise my English writing skills than I do my speaking skills. As a result I probably have more pronounciation mistakes than I do spelling mistakes, in relation to someone who speaks English more frequently. I’ve been told, also, that there’s a gap between my written English and my spoken English: I speak with an American accent, but people who’ve reviewed my writing have commented that I have a British writing style. This, again (if at all true) could be the result of reading more British than American texts.
For me, it was “rapport.” I had read this word for many years, and heard it in my head as rap’-port. I had heard the word spoken for as many years, but imagined it to be spelled much differently. “Repoor,” or something. I never quite figured it out. I think I was in my mid or late twenties before I connected the “two” words.
When I was a kid, I remember seeing the TV program, “The Undersea Adventures of Jacques Cousteau,” I must have been at an age where I was just learning to read because every time I saw the program title appear on the screen I was perplexed; I thought the name (spelled) “Jacques” must be pronounced “Zhock-coo” because those were the sounds I would hear whenever his name was mentioned. (But then I couldn’t figure out why the rest of his name always seemed a bit abbreviated… Looking at what clearly appeared to be four syllables, I wondered why it wasn’t pronounced “Zhock-coo Coo-stoe.”) So, to this day, whenever I see the name “Jacques” my mind sends me back to this setting.
Last edited by jorkel (2007-10-17 13:01:38)
I thought of two more:
1) beribboned (which I think I read in A Christmas Carol, perhaps describing Fezziwig’s daughters, and in a kid’s picture book I had). I pronounced it as “berry-boned.” I didn’t connect it to being festooned with ribbons until much later.
2) facade, which I read as “fay-KAID” (I associated it with “fake-”). I knew it was a false front on a building, which was the first definition that I drew from reading it, but I had no idea it was French, with the C sounding like an S or that the A was pronounced as it is….
Last edited by JonW719 (2007-10-17 19:03:36)
Feeling quite combobulated.
Gillibug—your pronunciation of dour as dower may not have been idiolectical. The word is, in fact, widely pronounced as dower in certain parts of the U. S. I grew up with that pronunciation (Nebraska) I didn’t hear dour pronounced the “right” way, the way that rhymes with “pure,” until I moved to Canada some thirty years ago.
Here’s another one in the recent New Yorker (Oct. 15 issue, page 44, 2008 campaign quiz):
“At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Joseph Biden referred to the queue of senators wating to speak. How did he pronounce ‘queue’?
The answer listed at the bottom is B.
Then there are words that are pronounced differently in different regions, such as ‘plait’ which in America, I believe, is pronounced ‘plate’ but in Britain is ‘platt’. Or Houston, which is one thing when it’s a city in Texas, and another when it’s a street in NYC.
Our family of early advanced readers has quite a collection of these (including berry-boned for beribboned already noted). One of my early in-head pronunciations was BEE-no-cue-lars for binoculars. Another family favorite is Mah-ZO-lee-um – rhymes with linoleum – for mausoleum.
My partner, who began reading at age 3, was incensed when his parents were trying to spell words around him to keep outings a secret; he insisted that there was no such things as a “Kir-kus” as they headed off to the circus.
I was an adult before I realized that the word “heady” had anything to do with “head.” I always supposed it was pronounced “heedy.” It was only rather recently that I realized that “Pleistocene,” a word I’ve known since I was a child reading about extinct animals, is not pronounced “Plee-is-to-cene,” as I assumed when I was eight or so. There is a famous example in the novel “How Green Was My Valley,” of a Welsh-speaking boy, being educated in English, pronouncing “misled” as “mizzled” and being mocked for it by his teacher.
Gilibug, when I lived in Israel many years ago, I several times heard Israelis refer to “Abraham Lincolin,” pronouncing the second “L.”
Of course, proper names, of both people and places, are constantly pronounced as they are spelled by people not in the know. The Boston area provides an endless array of shibboleths by which the natives can distinguish the foreigners—not just obvious ones like “Worcester,” but places like “Medford” (roughly, “Meffid”), “Waltham” (curiously pronounced “WALL-thAm” rather than “Wallth’m”), “Peabody” (Pibbidy), etc. I assumed that the last syllable in “Spokane” was pronounced “cane,” not “can” until I visited the area, and that “Yakima” was stressed on the second syllable, not the first. (Have I even got this right?) The British laugh at those who don’t know that “Ralph” is pronounced “Rafe,” “Davies,” “Davis” and “Talliaferro” “Tolliver.”
Israelis have a very hard time pronouncing certain names. I cringe every time I watch the E channel in Hebrew: “Sidney” Crawford, Ralph “Finness”, Gwyneth “Platrow”, “Stephan” King and others regularly have their names mangled. This is partly due to the fact that in casual texts the vowels are usually not marked, hence must be inferred.
This same problem Israelis have with vowels in foreign words sometimes leads to the formation of eggcorns. For example, many Israelis are under the impression that a continental breakfast consists of coffee and a “corazon”, and that a bagel with lox contains “smoked solomon”. I find the mistake irksome but I have to agree, croissants are dear to my heart, and salmon is the king of fish.
Thanks to everyone for the great responses. I was thinking about this and came to the conclusion that the way we learned to read probably has a lot to do with whether we had words that we mispronounced in this way. My parents were big proponents of teaching us to “sound out” words. My dad and I would sit in the car at the grocery store while my mom shopped, and he would help me sound out words on signs, etc. around us. So with the English language being what it is, and so many letters having multiple possibilities for the sounds they make, it is easy to mispronounce a word we came across in text. I think in most people our reading vocabulary is greater than our spoken (or heard) vocabulary. But if a person learned to read primarily from sight words instead of phonics this situation may not have come up as frequently.
Feeling quite combobulated.
I pronouced it VA-gih-na, with the same stress as in “vaginal.”
In my defense, when I was young, people did not say “vagina” in public and on the airwaves as much as they do now.
I still think I was using what would be the default English pronunciation, which had been displaced by some sort of pseudo-educated confusion between a long “i” in English (pronouced aiee) and a long “i” in Latin (pronouced ihhh).
The pronunciation of “vagina” with a long “i” and the stress on the second syllable does not reflect “pseudo-educated confusion” but the traditional (i.e., public school and university) English pronunciation of Latin from the 16h century through at least the first half of the 20th, when English schools began to adopt a more classicizing pronunciation (cf. the ordinary pronunciation of “Caesar” with “Kaisar,” as students are now taught to say.) Similarly, British lawyers still say “re-GI-na,” with a long “i”, as in “Re-GI-na v. Smith.” One of my law school professors actually said “ra-shun-ALE-ee” for “rationale,” on the same principle.
I’ve always thought this was very interesting, because it means that the 15th and 16th century Great Vowel Shift in English was applied equally to Latin, so that a long “i” went from “EE” to the dipthong “AI,” etc. The same thing happened in Ashkenaz (the Yiddish-speaking world), where different realizations of the same vowel in Yiddish were applied in the local pronunciation of Hebrew. To give an example, my father, who spoke Lithuanian Yiddish and therefore said “breit:” for “bread” where YIddish speakers from other regions would say “broyt,” would similarly say “cheidesh” and “cheilem” for the more usual Ashkenazi Hebrew “choydesh” and “choylem” [“month” and “dream,” respectively.]
Only upon reading this thread did I realize that I had been mispronouncing (in my head- I don’t belive I have ever had occasion to say the word aloud) “beribonned”.
A similar, but perhaps more esoteric example: until I heard someone else say it, I had read the name of the band “Mudhoney” [having taken their name from the Russ Meyer film] as mud-HO-nee. When first I heard someone pronounce it out loud, “Mud Honey”, I wondered how I ever managed to come up with such a counterintuitive pronunciation.
Mudhoney esoteric? Well, Knave, I can assure you that there’s at least one Mudhoney fan on the forum. But I probably heard the name before I ever saw it written.
In response to blandford’s comment—yeah, I think the way you treat new words might be related to reading speed. I’m a painfully slow reader, so stopping and guessing at the sound of an unfamiliar word—which I usually do—doesn’t seem like a big deal to me.
I remember that the unhyphenated version of “infra-red” tripped me up from time to time in college textbooks. It looks like a participial adjective, and I’d sit there thinking, “What does ‘to infrare’ mean?”
My Dad would deliberately mis-pronounce words like “picturesque” as “picture-skew”.
My wife admits to having read the whole of the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy without spotting that Ford Prefect was not, in fact, Perfect. Not being English, the word “prefect” as in a school pupil with some senior responsibilities* nor the model of Ford car were familiar to her, so she just sight-read what she thought she saw.
I know it has other meanings such as in various legal systems (including Scots, and related words such as prefecture), but this was the context I first came across the word, and I suspect this is true for most British school kids.
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will buy a ridiculous hat – Scott Adams (author of Dilbert)
Build a man a fire and he will be warm for a day; set a man on fire and he will be warm for the rest of his life – Terry Pratchett
Oh, this discussion is so BAY-nal! Can’t you con-JURE up better examples? To Blandford: Maybe, when we are young, we know spoken words better than written words. So that, when we run into a big written word, we seek the sound of it, because we already might know it as a spoken word. Then, if we get no familiar spoken word sound, we go back to the “skip-over” visual word.
Finally, how many people insist on saying, “misCHEEveeous,” even when their eyes could tell them how the word is supposed to be pronounced? This is a big example of a skip-over visual word that turns into a spoken mistake.
The first time I came across the word vagina I thought it was vuh-JEE-na. (I knew girls named Gina, so that is the pronunciation I extrapolated.)
Feeling quite combobulated.
I easily deduced the meaning of “misled” from its context, but for a very long time, I assumed it was pronounced MY-ZULD i.e. the past tense of “misle”.
Beribboned – Like a general! My mother pronounced it ‘berry-boned’, and to this day I have to catch myself whenever I see the word.
When I was a kid, I thought Life magazine was called Live (rhyme with hive).
Best one I had for years was the same as Clint above: misled – totally thought it was my-zeld.
I actually heard a segment on this on NPR’s This American Life. (not Live – ha. my joke).
I’m including a link which references the show and includes a few other interesting mis-understood / interpreted things:
I grew up in Iowa, and live in NYC, and I have never heard “dour” pronounced any OTHER way than “dower.”
Oh, and I pronounced “ignominius” as ig-NOM-i-nus. I think I just rushed through it at age 6 or something, and then never really looked at it again. It amused by dad no end, when I used it at age 19.
Last edited by TootsNYC (2007-12-05 14:40:26)
“Dower” in Iowa? I’m not surprised, Toots. Just a suburb of Nebraska, isn’t it?
Speaking of which (Nebraska), my Mom’s family used to visit the CHOIR-prak-ter when they had a twinge in their bones. Never knew if that was a local misreading of the word KI-roh-prak-ter or detritus of an older tradition.
Last edited by kem (2007-12-06 00:44:48)