Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
MW characterizes “petty” as alteration of “petit.” And, indeed the former is included in the definition of the latter. But to me, the two words have almost bifurcated in status. “Petit” receives an elevated treatment in terms like “petit larceny”, “petit bourgeois”, and “petit jury.” And although there is some overlap with “petty larceny,” we generally have a more common feel to terms like “petty crimes”, “petty cash”, and “petty officer.”
So, let’s look at the overlap example of “petit larceny” vs. “petty larceny.” The latter term sounds like what a parole officer would call it, while the former sounds like what the District Attorney would call it. I would even argue that “petty” has a sense of small-mindedness not captured by “petit.” This would almost be enough to qualify “petty larceny” as an eggcorn if the word weren’t so long-established. I don’t know whether other dictionaries would lump this distinction into the “folk etymology” category. [To me, a “folk etymology” connotes an eggcorn of yore].
Any thoughts, petit or otherwise?
Last edited by jorkel (2007-11-04 08:11:14)
Joe, I have to confess that I hadn’t encountered the term ‘petit larceny’ but was familiar with it in its eggcornish ‘petty’ guise. ‘Petty mal’ for ‘petit mal’ contrasts well with its ‘grand’ opposite and I agree ‘petty’ has connotations of small- mindedness, sometimes verging on the contemptible, which ‘petit’ has no trace of. ‘Petty’ may well have originally developed from ‘petit’ but they are clearly independent now, with separate roles and meanings. “Petty larceny” at 113,000 ghits supplants “petit larceny” at 95,100 and I think this substitution has been in circulation long enough to qualify for folk etymology status.