Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
This is to start a new thread to discuss one suggested criterion for eggcorniness (eggcornishness? eggcornhood? whatever).
A “real” eggcorn is not an invented (or adopted) joke, nor is it a one-time slip-up. It is a misanalysis of a word or phrase which has another and widespread analysis (or lack thereof) which is standard for the (in this case, English) language. Crucially, the eggcornish structure is normal for at least one speaker.
This implies that “standard” here does not mean “a well-established (especially jocular) alternative to the English-language standard in the speaker’s mind.”
Positive example: Some people say eggcorn and think of it as derived from a combination of egg + corn, without realizing that the wider standard is “acorn”. “Eggcorn” is the only way they think of it.
Negatory example: my brother once came up with the phrase six of a dozen and half of one of the other. He being who he is, I could not tell (nor could he) whether or in what degree this was accidental or the result of playing around with the language. I fell in love with it’s twist-like-a-cat-in-the-air-and-land-on-all-four-feet quality (it works out to 50% either way), and it is now a well-established variant of the phrase for me. I often use it in preference to the language-wide standard “six of one (and) half a dozen of the other”. But the point is that I know it is an alternative to that phrase, I am aware of the differences between them, and I choose to use it precisely because of those differences. Unfortunately, not an eggcorn.
Unless and until I meet someone who always says it that way and doesn’t realize that it is a funny way to say it.
Conceivably, a structure may be a good eggcorn while it is an alternative to the more widely standard version, when the speaker has both in his/her mind but doesn’t link them together. I believe something like that was going on when I had a strongly established verb “to misle” in my vocabulary, alongside, but detached in my mind from, “mislead”. (Anybody think of a better example? “Misle” isn’t particularly eggcornish.)
Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-27 16:42:10)
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
The eggcorn should be standard for someone.
Need it be more than one person? I would suggest, no.
One might think of it as a “better” eggcorn if it affects a larger segment of the population, but I don’t see why that should matter much.
On the other hand, it is not always easy to establish when something is standard for someone else, and it is easier to establish if there is a larger group of speakers involved.
A person’s own testimony is for me very strong evidence. If only one person can say “I always said/understood it that way”, that’s good enough for me.
Ghits (“hits” using an Internet search-engine such as Google) may be taken as evidence, but they tend to be arguable evidence. A ghit may record a nonce error, a spell-checker or other computer-induced error, a joke, a made-up structure (e.g. a punning e-handle). So they should be weighed, and preferably a good number of representative usages displayed to lower the possibility that all of them somehow fail to be representative of what is standard for someone.
Stronger evidence than sheer number of ghits, even “good” ghits, is repeated hits by the same author, which will usually be most easily discernible when they are repeated hits within a single document, and absence of the standard form in the same document or author’s oeuvre. It still is important to discriminate, of course, and avoid cases where the author is repeating a joke, or where a nonce error is copied blindly to different parts of a document, and so forth.
It is only for such reasons that a high number of ghits is important, I would maintain. It is of course an interesting fact about a particular eggcorn if it is standard for a lot of people, but if so it doesn’t (at least for me) increase its eggcornishness, or decrease it if not.
Of course, if it is standard for a very large number of people, it starts to become part of the standard language—as for example, “hone in on”, or “you’ve got another thing coming”. These, though perhaps eggcornish in origin, are now so widely standard that their eggcornishness can well be viewed as being dissipated.
Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-27 16:41:21)
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .