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#1 2008-06-27 19:39:03

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Eggcorn criteria

A number of posts have skirted around or directly raised the question of what constitutes an eggcorn.

Patschweiterman wrote on one of the Soapbox threads:

Every family has a few questions that aren’t supposed to be asked around the dinner table. “Who was it who lived in the attic when I was a kid?” “Why don’t you ever talk about your earlier marriages?” “What was grampa doing in the Ukraine in 1951?” “Is it true I have three siblings I’ve never met?” You just asked a bunch of ours.
.
Well, I’m kidding to a degree. It’s not so much that there are things we won’t talk about—rather, we’ve sort of decided that talking about them amongst ourselveselves doesn’t get us anywhere—there are too many eggcorns that need to be hunted down in the meantime.
.
<snip>
.
Personally, I’d prefer not to see criteria imposed on posting to the forum. Yes, I wish a lot more things just got posted to the “Slips” page. But the forum really is our sandbox, and I think people should feel welcome to grab a shovel and start playing the second they stumble upon us. Some people are going to go away immediately when we tell them, “No, that’s not an eggcorn.” But Chris’s original idea was that the people who really cared would start to pick up the basics from others’ comments, and then apply them. That still seems like a good principle to me. And we have had newcomers argue vehemently that contributions that clearly didn’t seem like eggcorns to the vets really did fit whatever criteria the vets laid out. And those noobies have generally gone away. So a list of criteria really might just provide a different set of things to be unhappy about for some people.
.
Still, it’s a little weird that we haven’t yet formulated a short list of criteria that can be posted under Eggcornology somewhere. We’ve hashed out the basics many times. The original and the eggcorn should a) sound very similar, b) mean roughly the same thing in the same context, c) not be obviously related etymologically. And perhaps most importantly, the eggcorn should introduce a new set of imagery that seems to refer on some level to the meaning of the original word. But we disagree sharply on how to define all of those criteria. And I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting. Maybe hashing out such a list would be a good collective project for the summer. What’s a good number of criteria? I’ve got 4 above, but some of those might be deleted, added to, split, etc. I don’t think that more than, say, 10 would be helpful. But could all of us agree on a definitive wording? And would the Database gatekeepers concur with our conclusions? Anyone want to take a first shot at starting such a thread under Eggcornology—with the understanding, of course, that we’ll all fall upon the prototype like a bunch of piranhas?

I (DTuggy) suggested adding a criterion having to to with the eggcorn being the standard word or phrase for someone.

To which Pat responded:

Yes, that’s right, the intentionality thing has to be in there—gotta rule out puns, spontaneous production errors, etc.
.
DT, you and I have already gotten in trouble once today for hijacking a thread, so we should probably get around to moving this to Eggcornology under a title like “Draft Eggcorn Criteria” or some such thing. Formulating the criteria might not be so bad, but providing a list of model eggcorns might get really interesting.

So here’s a start. I think I’ll edit another message laying out the suggested criteria above more readably.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#2 2008-06-27 19:47:31

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Suggested ways to proceed:

It might be worthwhile to start a separate thread for each proposed criterion.

Discussion could refine the statement of the criterion, explain more clearly what is meant by each, how techniques such as google-eyes-ing (sorry!) related to it, and so on.

It is an excellent suggestion to post prime examples, both good and bad, for each criterion. The good ones would function as prototypes, and the bad ones as examples of how to apply the criterion.

Those with the memory of previous discussions and facility in finding such things might bring up relevant quotes from the archives.

Eventually some sort of semi-official postable statement might come out of the process. Or might not, but it’d likely be useful to us anyway.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-27 19:53:47)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#3 2008-06-27 19:48:37

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

What constitutes an eggcorn? Suggested criteria:

A. The original and the eggcorn should sound very similar,

B. The original and the eggcorn should mean roughly the same thing in the same context,

C. The original and the eggcorn should not be obviously related etymologically.

D. Perhaps most importantly, the eggcorn should introduce a new set of imagery that seems to refer on some level to the meaning of the original word.

E. The eggcorn should be standard for someone.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#4 2008-06-27 21:46:43

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Hi David,
I would add…

The original needs to be an in-the-language expression (which would include idioms).

This stipulation would imply that we could locate multiple examples of the original expression, and that most people would agree upon its usage/meaning.

(An example of an in-the-language expression that isn’t an idiom is something like “unchartered territory.” We’re all mostly familiar with such a usage).

Last edited by jorkel (2008-06-27 21:47:38)

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#5 2008-06-27 21:55:09

jorkel
Eggcornista
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 1455

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I would also break item D out into two separate thoughts (somehow).

First,

The eggcorn introduces a unique set of imagery,

and second

The eggcorn applies in the context of the original.

I think we have to be careful to not connect the eggcorn too closely to the meaning of the original. We should tiptoe around the issue by using the word “context”. I make the distinction because the utterer is only aware of the context in which the original is used, but may never understand the true meaning of the original.

Remark added after posting the above:
I just noticed that “context” is mentioned in item B.
Perhaps item D just needs a little more wordsmithing.

Last edited by jorkel (2008-06-27 22:00:58)

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#6 2008-06-27 22:55:14

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

JOrkel wrote

I think we have to be careful to not connect the eggcorn too closely to the meaning of the original.

What confusions might the use of the word “meaning” introduce? This isn’t at all clear to me. True, the people committing the eggcorns probably don’t know the original word—or they wouldn’t be eggcorning. But it only makes sense to me to try and define the term “eggcorn” from the perspective of the person comparing a reshaping to its original—and not from the perspective of the eggcorner. Also, both “context” and “apply” seem to me too vague and general. I don’t think attempting to avoid the word “meaning” when defining “eggcorn” is a good idea.

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#7 2008-06-27 23:09:54

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Good comments, Jorkel. I’m copying the second one to a new thread on item D, and will probably respond to it there.

Re “original in the language” as a criterion, it probably is worthwhile to make that explicit. Probably the first criterion if so. “Established” for me, or “conventional”, or perhaps “standard” might be other ways to say “in the language”.

We’d want to be sure that “in the language” wouldn’t exclude cases like ifso facto that were borrowed from another language. I would strongly maintain that ipso facto is “in” the English language (established, conventionalized, and standard), so is a legitimate original for an eggcorn.

I agree (strongly) that “uncharted territory/waters” is conventional: for me “unchartered territory” is thus a likely eggcorn. (I had documented “unchartered waters” but did not yet have “unchartered territory”, checking just now I find them both many thousands of times on the Internet.) I agree that it is best to not specify “idioms” because many definitions for that term require semantic oddity (non-compositionality) besides conventionality, and very many established phrases are quite regular and as compositional as normal speech is.

Is there any way to put the criteria in a kind of wiki, so we could tinker with them at leisure? Or should we copy them periodically, so as to keep their formulation up-to-date with the discussion?


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#8 2008-06-28 05:56:59

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I like visuals. Here is a diagram. It doesn’t capture all of the definition components, but I think it represents the core linguistic move made by an eggcorn.

http://s158336089.onlinehome.us/eggcorndiagram1.gif

Warning: high deniability.

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#9 2008-06-28 16:46:20

DavidTuggy
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From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
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Re: Eggcorn criteria

Hi, kem,

I agree that charting something out often helps clear your thinking. And I think I follow your diagram pretty closely. But I think it leaves a few things out that strike me as pretty central.

In particular, I don’t think either the original or the eggcorn is just the signifier, but a complete symbolic structure, i.e. signifier(s) matched with meaning(s) (signified(s)). Relatedly, I don’t think there is only one signified, but rather one for the original and a crucially different one for the eggcorn, though they must be similar enough to be usable in the same context(s).

Here’s a link to an attempt of mine to diagram it . If you mentally rotate your diagram 90° counterclockwise, so the Signified is on top and the Signifiers on the bottom, you’ll see that the diagrams actually are very similar, except that mine has more detail.

The original may be complex (i.e. it may contain more than one component sign) or it may be simple. For most of us acorn is probably simplex, though some may analyze corn (i.e. the sign kɔɻn/SEED-MAIZE-ETC.) out of it. The eggcorn, I believe, must be complex: otherwise we’d call it a malapropism or something instead of an eggcorn (e.g.”fat” for “fact” is not an eggcorn.)

Of course often something can be presented in two ways. E.g. the simplex “fat” for “fact”, vs. the complex “the fat of the matter”/”as a matter of fat” for “the fact of the matter”/”as a matter of fact”. The first wouldn’t be an eggcorn, but the other two are. Yet, in some sense they are the same eggcorn, but in another sense they are not.

fwiw, the diagram I’ve used fits seamlessly (seemlily) in the grammatical theory I have found most useful, Cognitive grammar. It recognizes (unlike many theories) that the overall meanings of complex symbols (like words or phrases) are typically at least a little bit different from what the components and their way of being combined might tell you. It also recognizes the huge importance of usages in particular contexts in our establishing (or at least establishing limits on) meanings, and the fact that very often speaker and hearer have slightly (and occasionally drastically) different structures (signifiers/signifieds) in mind but still manage to communicate adequately.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-28 17:05:24)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#10 2008-06-28 16:50:46

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

What constitutes an eggcorn? Revised list of suggested criteria:

a. The original should be a widely-established word or phrase of the language in question.

A. The original and the eggcorn should sound very similar,

B. The original and the eggcorn should mean roughly the same thing in the same context(s),

C. The original and the eggcorn should not be obviously related etymologically.

D. Perhaps most importantly, the eggcorn should introduce a new set of imagery that connects on some level to the meaning of the original word.

E. The eggcorn should be standard for someone.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-28 17:10:38)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#11 2008-06-28 18:14:15

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

How do you recognize in your new list what we have referred to as the “slope of familiarity,” i.e., the fact that eggcorn words and phrases are usually more familiar to the the speaker than the eggcorned word or phrase?

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#12 2008-06-28 18:25:24

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

David-

In your diagram, what part of eggcorning does the greyed out “B” on the left refer to? And what does the B/Y on the right mean?

Perhaps I could understand the diagram better if you connected the parts of your diagram to an actual example.

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#13 2008-06-28 19:10:12

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Yeah, I thought of including an example, and don’t doubt it would be helpful, but didn’t have the energy/time to do it right now. Maybe later.

The greying out was intended to convey optionality. The original may be simplex, consisting only of a/A, or complex, having also b/B (and other things) as components.

The point of saying B/Y was that it is not necessarily a new component (Y) in the eggcorn, but may be the same as one in the original (B). E.g. in greatfruit < grapefruit, only great and grape are different, fruit is the same. (The same may be true for eggcorn < acorn.)

Your “slope of familiarity” is actually two slopes, which may run together and may not. The standard form is by definition familiar to many people (it is widely established). Parts of it may not be all that well identified to all of those speakers, but they may well be. For the eggcorn-producer, however, the structure as a whole is likely to be less familiar, and almost always the component(s) that get(s) changed is less familiar. Anyway, I decided to change the “slope of familiarity” to specifications attached to the original and to the eggcorn. Certainly debatable whether that was a good move.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#14 2008-06-28 19:45:49

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I understand now, I think, what the greyed components mean. I’m not clear why they are greyed on one side and not on the other, though, since they are optional on both sides.

In discussions on this forum we often raise the issue of whether an eggcorn is more familiar to the speaker than the eggcorned phrase. We haven’t always agreed on which way the slope runs in specific cases, and we haven’t always agreed on the significance of the slope to the case at hand. But the idea of the slope running from the more familiar (eggcorn) to the less familiar (eggcorned) keeps coming up, and it seems to be important in deciding whether a given substitution is an eggcorn. If we are trying to capture the discussion of eggcorn analysis in a formal framework, then the comparison of familiarity should be represented, shouldn’t it?

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#15 2008-06-28 19:58:41

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Kem’s question about familiarity also makes me think about whether what we’re compiling here is a list of criteria for helping newbies distinguish eggcorns from other similar things, or a more theoretical and exhaustive description of the full range of eggcorns.

It might (or might not) be helpful if a list of discriminatory criteria included most prominently those features that are obligatory for an eggcorn. For instance, an eggcorn MUST sound like the original, or it’s simply not an eggcorn. (Though of course we’ve never been able to agree on what things “sound similar.” And the Database gatekeepers have generally had a stricter standard than the forum regulars (though the credulity-stretching “paramour>>powermower” Database entry comes to mind…).)

An exhaustive description of eggcorns might also include features that eggcorns tend to display. The idea that some or all of the elements of an eggcorn are probably more familiar to the eggcorner than the elements of the original is a really strong tendency. But there are of course quite a number of forum posts where a poster has noted that it’s unclear that an element in the eggcorn or the eggcorn as a whole isn’t obviously more familiar than all or part of the original. And it usually doesn’t seem like people on the forum feel that that disqualifies the reshaping—it just seems to make it an odd eggcorn. (And of course there’s our usual problem of knowing just what is or isn’t familiar to some stranger writing on the Internet.)

Another feature related to this idea of familiarity is the tendency for {rare words / loanwords that still look distinctly “foreign” in English /obsolescent words / words that generally occur only in idioms / words whose use in an idiom or expression is based on technologies or cultural practices that are less familiar today} to be eggcorned more frequently than others. Again, this is only a tendency.

Of course, there’s no reason why a list couldn’t mix obligatory features and tendencies—they both give a newcomer a clue to what’s going on here, and trying to define both will sharpen our own collective sense of what we’re doing. But I think the difference needs to be kept in mind and made clear in any final product.

[Edit: Kem’s last post above appeared while I was writing this.]

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-06-28 20:04:25)

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#16 2008-06-28 20:04:11

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

kem wrote:

I understand now, I think, what the greyed components mean. I’m not clear why they are greyed on one side and not on the other, though, since they are optional on both sides.

Well, I think that the eggcorn must have at least two components; the original need have only one. Either of them can of course have more than two. Anyhow, that’s why I didn’t grey out the second component in the eggcorn but did grey it out in the original.

In discussions on this forum we often raise the issue of whether an eggcorn is more familiar to the speaker than the eggcorned phrase. We haven’t always agreed on which way the slope runs in specific cases, and we haven’t always agreed on the significance of the slope to the case at hand. But the idea of the slope running from the more familiar (eggcorn) to the less familiar (eggcorned) keeps coming up, and it seems to be important in deciding whether a given substitution is an eggcorn. If we are trying to capture the discussion of eggcorn analysis in a formal framework, then the comparison of familiarity should be represented, shouldn’t it?

Three answers: (a) Yes, the question is how. There isn’t a single “slope of familiarity” involved. There are different judgments of relative familiarity for each component of each structure as well as of the original and the eggcorn as wholes, for those who use the eggcorn vs. for the public at large (including analysts like us). (b) My diagram isn’t complete, either. Maybe this should be added. (c) Or maybe we could think that the statements that the original is widely conventionalized but that the eggcorn is standard for someone might cover at least an important part of it. Anything widely conventionalized is familiar to those in whose minds it is conventionalized; anything standard is familiar to the one(s) in whose mind it is standard. (Conventionalized and standard are not intended as opposites in any sense: they are very close synonyms.)

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-28 20:21:35)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#17 2008-06-28 20:12:15

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

patschwieterman wrote:

an eggcorn MUST sound like the original, or it’s simply not an eggcorn. (Though of course we’ve never been able to agree on what things “sound similar.” <snip> the credulity-stretching “paramour>>powermower” Database entry comes to mind…

Surprised me there, Pat. The sounds of paramour and powermower are pretty similar, in many dialects that I hear, and not all that different in the one that I speak. Many people using a “spelling pronunciation” will pronounce that last syllable like “more” [moʷɻ] than like “moor” [muɻ]. A good many pronounce “power”, especially as the first member of a compound, pretty close to “par” [paːɻ], which is pretty close to a good pronunciation (for them) of “para-” [ˈpaːɻə̌] in this context. (Words like parachute will have more of a [ˈpɛɻə̌] pronunciation, to be sure.)

What stretches my credulity is the semantics, trying to get a reasonable connection between an illicit lover and a grass-cutting machine.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-28 20:26:30)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#18 2008-06-28 20:45:07

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

“I think that the eggcorn must have at least two components…”

Lost you on that statement. Could you give an example?

“My diagram isn’t complete, either. Maybe this should be added.”

I wasn’t thinking about adding anything to the diagram, which in any case only represents a subset of the formal definition. I was thinking about expanding the A through E criteria for identifying eggcorns.

I don’t see the relative familiarity of the original and the eggcorn captured in any essential way by the terms “conventionalized” and “standard.” Decisions about eggcorn status depend on a direct comparison of the relative familiarity of the original and the eggcorn in the vocabulary of the speaker. Similar to the way we do a comparison of the sound similarity (A in your current list).

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#19 2008-06-28 20:46:48

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

David—agreed on the second syllable; it’s the first one that seems like the dealbreaker to me.

I asked a bonafide Southerner about this last year (from N. Carolina, I think), and he told me he’d never heard anyone confuse the two in earnest, adding that there seems to be a longstanding Southern joke about men who keep their power mower in the shed out back. I guess that could be seen as evidence—Southerners think the confusion is possible. But I’d reply that the standard of believability is far lower in a joke than in an eggcorn.

Admittedly, my bonified informant, like you, was less skeptical than me, saying he’s heard some pretty amazing pronunciations involving the semivocalic r in Southern dialects. I remain pretty skeptical—I’d really like to hear from someone whose dialect actually conflates “paramour” and “powermower.” (Or even find a second authentic citation.) And like the person who added a comment to the Database article, I’m thinking spellchecker correction, though once again I’m forced to concede that my own spellchecker won’t back me up.

David, we’re off-topic again. I wish our forum software allowed sub-threads, though I’m sometimes confused on forums that do allow them.

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#20 2008-06-28 21:34:53

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Kem—A post of mine talking about “familiarity” slipped in immediately before the one of David’s that you were last responding to; I don’t know whether you saw it or not. In it, I wondered whether familiarity had to be on the list of criteria deciding eggcornicity. It’s a terribly important feature of eggcorns, no question. But does it need to be on the list of criteria for telling an eggcorn from a malaprop, etc.?

Kem wrote:

Decisions about eggcorn status depend on a direct comparison of the relative familiarity of the original and the eggcorn in the vocabulary of the speaker. Similar to the way we do a comparison of the sound similarity (A in your current list).

One of our terrific problems on this website is precisely that we can’t make a “direct comparison”—we’re always constrained to guessing about what’s familiar for the speaker by thinking about what seems most familiar to ourselves and those around us. A pretty good yardstick, most of the time, but not direct. And should the indirectness that’s realistically enforced upon us be acknowledged somewhere in whatever larger statements we end up making about the nature of eggcorns?

And sometimes a fairly unfamiliar word is replaced with a fairly unfamiliar word—or even a word we might expect to be more familiar. I don’t believe that we’ve ever agreed that such words are automatically excluded from eggcornicity—though in some of those cases we have had interesting arguments/discussions about what words are likely to be more “familiar.”

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-06-28 21:36:59)

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#21 2008-06-28 21:50:59

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I wrote:

“I think that the eggcorn must have at least two components…”

and Kem replied:

Lost you on that statement. Could you give an example?

Sure. Fat for fact is not an eggcorn. Fat has only one component: it is not complex. All eggcorns, I think, are complex.


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#22 2008-06-28 22:17:06

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Kem wrote:

I wasn’t thinking about adding anything to the diagram, which in any case only represents a subset of the formal definition. I was thinking about expanding the A through E criteria for identifying eggcorns.
.
I don’t see the relative familiarity of the original and the eggcorn captured in any essential way by the terms “conventionalized” and “standard.” Decisions about eggcorn status depend on a direct comparison of the relative familiarity of the original and the eggcorn in the vocabulary of the speaker. Similar to the way we do a comparison of the sound similarity (A in your current list).

OK, maybe I’d better explain how I understand (and therefore how I use) “conventionalized”. Conventionalized is “established by usage as conventional, i.e. as shared and known to be shared among members of a relevant community.” I believe all speakers have stored in their minds (in some form) assessments of conventionality; we use those assessments in choosing what words to use with what audiences, or whether to explain them or not.

Conventionalization admits all sorts of gradations, particularly regarding which communit(ies), how much/frequent the usage and how prominent, and how sure we are that others know the structure in question. There may be some sort of threshold beyond which we just use a structure without worrying how widely it is shared (i.e. a point where it becomes standard for us), but the conventionalization process never stops. As a result, some structures are so absolutely thoroughly entrenched that we really think somebody is weird or deficient if they purport to be members of our community but don’t know them. Anybody who doesn’t know “income tax” (in the US, anyway) has got to be weird. Those structures cannot but be familiar. Other structures we won’t be surprised if people don’t know. E.g. I know ipso facto and ceteris paribus pretty well (as part of my English, I mean), but I am not surprised if others don’t. They are familiar to me, but I don’t expect them to be so for everybody.

For instance, the phrase “the United States” is a very thoroughly conventionalized structure: we are very surprised if we find anyone who speaks English but does not know it. It is obviously familiar. The words “united” and “states” are also pretty thoroughly conventionalized, and in fact part of what is involved in our apprehension of the conventionality of “The United States” is an expectation that our interlocutors will be aware that “united” and “states” are components of it. However, I will be less surprised to find someone who hasn’t realized that part of the meaning than someone who doesn’t know the phrase at all.

If some old-time fan of the Baltimore Colts were to have thought that what he heard people saying was in fact “The Unitas States”, and established that in his own mind as standard, we would be looking at an eggcorn. He could probably say it repeatedly, and as long as nobody listened carefully enough or called him on it, the mistake would go unnoticed. It is, to be sure, a mistake: he would be misunderstanding, to a certain extent, what other people meant by the phrase, because (1) he did not think “united” was a component, and (2) because he thought “Unitas” was. But the overall meaning assigned (‘the country “we” [or “those guys” as the case might be] live in’) would be close enough for communication to go on.

Sure, “Unitas” would have to be fairly familiar to him for this misanalysis to get started. As he used it over and over on the way to standarization, it would become even more so. But it need not be the case that the word “Unitas” would be less familiar for other speakers than for him, nor that it be less familiar to them than “united”. Nor need there be any difference in the familiarity to him or them of the whole phrase [ðəjuˌnaʲɾə(d)ˈsteʲts/THE USA]. What would be unfamiliar to them (and thus surprising when they realized it), but totally familiar to him (because it is conventionalized to the point of standardization), would be the analysis of [ðəjuˌnaʲɾə(d)ˈsteʲts/THE USA] with “Unitas” as a component rather than “united”.

Man, I get longwinded once I get going! Sorry! Hope it’s at least somewhat helpful.

Bottom line: It can’t be strongly conventionalized or standardized without being familiar. But there are all kinds of gradations involved. As long as the eggcorn is standard for some but not most, and the contrasting parts of the original are vice versa, we’re pretty well off.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-28 22:27:01)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#23 2008-06-29 06:31:43

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Fat for fact is not an eggcorn. Fat has only one component: it is not complex. All eggcorns, I think, are complex.

Not sure what you mean by “components.” Eggcorns do usually occur in the context of an idiom. Are the eggcorn and the idiom in which it is embedded what you mean by “components?” Still, there are a few atomic eggcorns. clique/click, cue/queue, diffuse/defuse, flair/flare. And some which typically occur in idioms can abandon their home idioms and run about on their own.

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#24 2008-06-29 08:47:35

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1763
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I think we’re starting to converge, a bit. Yes, when you have an idiom or standard phrase (or a word), and one part of it is substituted out for another to make an eggcorn, the changed part is one component, and the other, embedding part is another component or set of components. But to me the eggcorn is not the one substituted part, it is the whole idiom(/phrase/word) reinterpreted because of the changed part.

But if clique/click, cue/queue, and flair/flare are eggcorns, then I was simply wrong. But if those are eggcorns, so would fact/fat be. I would have just called those malapropisms. And I think every malapropism that is standard for someone could then be called an eggcorn, which I think would be an unhelpful terminological move. To me a reasonable definition of an eggcorn would be “a malapropism (or better, a set of malapropisms) that takes place within a larger structure and changes how that larger structure is construed, which construal has become standard for someone.”

diffuse/defuse is different, for me, from the others you cite. Whether or not diffuse is simplex, de-fuse certainly is not.

Seriously, if cue/queue is an eggcorn, then it’s back to the drawing boards for me.

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-29 08:54:41)


*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .

(Possible Corollary: it is, and we are .)

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#25 2008-06-29 17:16:32

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2133

Re: Eggcorn criteria

This formalization exercise we are going through requires that whatever formalisms we construct be taken back to a foundation of raw data and checked for fidelity. When we do this, and the data and the formalisms do not match, we have two recourses. We can go back to the formalism, adjust it, and retest it, or we can reconfigure our database and leave out the offending pieces. Both by temperament and by reason of my inexperience with grammatical formalisms, I tend to bow before the data. On the other hand, I have no doubt that there are eggcorns in the lascribe database that will eventually be tossed out. (How’s that for waffling? It reminds of the meteorologist’s prediction, “Tomorrow we have a 100% chance of weather.”)

I don’t think your definition rules out atomic eggcorns. Sometimes the “larger structure” within which an eggcorn happens is the matrix of language itself. The Great Grammatical Fallacy of All Time (GGFAT) is that there are words that are not embedded in a context. Lexemes can have greater or lesser mobility, can yield themselves more or less readily to abstraction, but in the end no lexeme can erase the marks of its birth. Look closely enough and you will find that they all have bellybuttons. The navels of atomic eggcorns are just a little harder to find than those of molecular, idiomatized eggcorns. However, if we allow “larger structure” to refer to the whole context of language, this raises the question of whether we add anything at all to the concept of an eggcorn when we say that it “takes place withing a larger structure.” Perhaps we should says something that makes more of a nod to statistics, such as “eggcorns typically occur within boilerplate phrases.”

Last edited by kem (2008-06-29 17:23:08)

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