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#26 2008-06-30 09:30:59

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

DT—Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your “Unitas States” examples. If so, please just say so. I’ll try to keep this short so that I don’t bother with a long post that addresses something you never intended. But if you mean that we should accept “Unitas States” as an eggcorn if we could somehow have access to the background narrative, then I think you’re dealing with a different interpretation of eggcorn than I am—and a different one than I think most of us are employing on a day-to-day basis on this site.

I would call “Unitas States” a malaprop even if I knew the larger story. I think lots of people who use malaprops most of us would consider malaprops would be willing to defend them with explanations that clarify why they think the malaprops make sense. But the existence of those private narratives doesn’t make them eggcorns. For me, a word/phrase can qualify as an eggcorn only if the way it might make sense for the eggcorner is fairly clear (that “fairly” may be very important) to a person who knows the standard phrase. “Unitas States” doesn’t make much sense to me as a name for the United States—not in the same way that “eggcorn” makes sense to me as a substitution for “acorn.” When I first saw the word “eggcorn,” I knew immediately what the Language Log people saw in the term, even before I got to their explanation. And that immediacy is part of what I found so extraordinary about the word and the larger category named for it.

I ‘ve long thought that the eggcorn category is a bit weirdly artificial in that (in my view) it necessarily demands a degree of compositionality that we don’t demand from all standard phrases in the language.

At the beginning of this whole process, I said that I thought that the word “eggcorn” needed to defined from the perspective of the “eggcornista,” and not from the perspective of the “eggcorner.” I said that because I can’t see an easy way of separating malaprops from eggcorns if all arguments for the “logic” of a reshaping are equally valid if they’re actually held by the persons using the reshaping. Private narratives for the meanings of words can be hedged about with too few constraints. I’ve got more to say on this, but let’s see how you respond before I go on.

Let me shift to a different topic from this thread—nuclear eggcorns. Again, I may be misunderstanding you. When you wrote

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

did you mean that you can’t accept that queue is an eggcorn for cue in any circumstance anywhere, or just in the types of examples that the Database provides? If I understand Kem’s second paragraph in his last post (I’m not sure I do), then I think he’s right—nuclear eggcorns don’t necessarily torpedo your formulations. The immediate context of a word like “queue” makes all the difference. I think that the first 3 Database examples for cue>>queue are pretty darn questionable, but the last two seem at least to have eggcorn potential (even if it’s not absolutely clearly eggcorn). They both use “on queue”—as if someone is standing in a queue, and they advance right on cue when they get to the head of the line. But I need “cue” to be part of the “on cue” phrase before it starts seeming more eggcornish. Flair>>flare seems to me even more doubtful as an eggcorn, but I wish the Database entry at least made it explicit that only examples of “flare” that were followed by “for” were admissible.

I feel that every Database entry should include an analysis of the substitution, but, well, I also think we need to reform the healthcare system in the US and be willing to raise our own taxes to the degree necessary to do it—I’m clearly nuts.

[Later edit: Thinking in the shower about the quest for a true nuclear eggcorn and words like “queue” and “flare” that seem ultimately part of a phrase, I started wondering whether there were non-compound words in the Database that are everywhere substitutable for their original. Does aisle>>isle work? The spelling problem has always worried me a bit with that one, but I’m too sleepy to think about it further. But again, that wouldn’t trouble your criteria as currently constituted, would it?]

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-06-30 11:30:30)

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#27 2008-06-30 13:28:23

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

patschwieterman wrote:

DT—Perhaps I’m misunderstanding your “Unitas States” examples. If so, please just say so. I’ll try to keep this short so that I don’t bother with a long post that addresses something you never intended. But if you mean that we should accept “Unitas States” as an eggcorn if we could somehow have access to the background narrative, then I think you’re dealing with a different interpretation of eggcorn than I am—and a different one than I think most of us are employing on a day-to-day basis on this site.
.
I would call “Unitas States” a malaprop even if I knew the larger story. I think lots of people who use malaprops most of us would consider malaprops would be willing to defend them with explanations that clarify why they think the malaprops make sense. But the existence of those private narratives doesn’t make them eggcorns. For me, a word/phrase can qualify as an eggcorn only if the way it might make sense for the eggcorner is fairly clear (that “fairly” may be very important) to a person who knows the standard phrase. “Unitas States” doesn’t make much sense to me as a name for the United States—not in the same way that “eggcorn” makes sense to me as a substitution for “acorn.”

OK, “Unitas States” wasn’t a great example, maybe. But maybe it was good because I think this is a point of differentiation between us. To me the issue isn’t so centrally whether the eggcorn narrative/analysis/derivation/whatever-you-call-it makes sense to me, but whether it makes sense to the person using it. Of course I am likely to enjoy it more if it makes sense to me, but then I can also enjoy some pretty off-the-wall ones that don’t make that much sense. “Smilin’ mighty Jesus” for “spinal meningitis” (documented, though I’m dubious about its full legitimacy) comes to mind.

Re calling “Unitas States” a malaprop, I think “eggcorn” is a malaprop (perhaps a double malaprop) too. I might well want to define eggcorns as a class of malaprops; certainly the categories overlap greatly.

Eggcorns grade into several other kinds of things. Mondegreens (which I take to be “slips of the ear” instead of “slips of the tongue”, i.e. errors occurring more on the hearing/recognition/analysis side of our linguistic cognition than on the production side) are a very clear case. Mondegreens and malaprops are of course not disjoint categories either.

<snip> I can’t see an easy way of separating malaprops from eggcorns if all arguments for the “logic” of a reshaping are equally valid if they’re actually held by the persons using the reshaping. Private narratives for the meanings of words can be hedged about with too few constraints. I’ve got more to say on this, but let’s see how you respond before I go on.

OK, to me what distinguishes eggcorns from (other) malaprops is precisely this matter of complexity: it is not just putting one word/morpheme in place of another, but putting one analysis of a complex word or phrase in place of another. In either case, there will be a slight sound/pronunciation(/spelling? I think so: e.g. cue/queue) difference to let you know the substitution has occurred.

<snip> did you mean that you can’t accept that queue is an eggcorn for cue in any circumstance anywhere, or just in the types of examples that the Database provides? If I understand Kem’s second paragraph in his last post (I’m not sure I do), then I think he’s right—nuclear eggcorns don’t necessarily torpedo your formulations. The immediate context of a word like “queue” makes all the difference.

Actually, I hadn’t looked queue up in the Database. I just meant that considered in isolation substituting the one word for the other is an ordinary malapropism. As you say, the context makes the difference. It is the substitution in the standard context that to me constitutes the eggcorn. Yes, “on queue” is a good eggcorn for me.

<snip> I need “cue” to be part of the “on cue” phrase before it starts seeming more eggcornish. Flair>>flare seems to me even more doubtful as an eggcorn, but I wish the Database entry at least made it explicit that only examples of “flare” that were followed by “for” were admissible.

Exactly! The eggcorn isn’t queue for cue or flare for flair, but on queue for on cue, or a flare for for a flair for. (Not too often you get a legitimate double for …)

I’m clearly nuts. ¶ [Later edit: Thinking in the shower about the quest for a true nuclear eggcorn and words like “queue” and “flare” that seem ultimately part of a phrase, I started wondering

I’m glad there are other sane people in this crazy world who use their shower time to consider issues of major philosophical import. As my brother reports hearing a friend say repeatedly, “Pontificate that for a while.” Go Pat!

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-06-30 13:33:04)


*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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#28 2008-06-30 14:32:12

JonW719
Eggcornista
From: Colorado
Registered: 2007-09-05
Posts: 285

Re: Eggcorn criteria

It seems to me that the very best eggcorns also have an unknowing/unwitting punnishness or wordplay about them.


Feeling quite combobulated.

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#29 2008-06-30 23:46:20

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

No time for a real post, but just to clear up one thing there’s no disagreement on: the technical definition of “malaprop.” I think most people here are aware that eggcorns are technically malapropisms (no matter what Wikipedia says), but if I have to write “non-eggcorn malaprops” or something every time I’ll go nuts…. So I always assume that in forum-speak, “malaprop” excludes eggcorns. Some of the LL people use this, too, which is where I assume we got it. We do some funny things with some other terms, as well, but at the moment an eg. I was thinking of the other day has escaped me.

Agreed with Jon, too —many of my favorites work in cool ways their users may not have noticed. Cherry on top.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-06-30 23:48:22)

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#30 2008-07-04 03:32:43

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2160

Re: Eggcorn criteria

David writes:

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

I think the question we were pursuing is whether the B/Y on the eggcorn side of your diagram should be greyed out. The question, that is, whether eggcorns are invariably bound in idiomatic phrasings. The eggcorn in this case is “diffuse,” the eggcorned is “defuse.” I think the eggcorn, “diffuse,” may be atomic. The discussion on the eggcorn database site points to a specific phrase (“defuse the situation”), but “diffuse” can be erroneously substituted for “defuse” in most of the contexts in which “defuse” occurs. And since “diffuse” conveys a different but related imagery (thinning something out rather than removing a fuse from something), it is a genuine eggcorn, isn’t it?

Atomic (or nuclear or simplex), though, is a relative term. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, “diffuse” still has a use context, even if that use context is an unbounded list of the English sentences in which “defuse” can be meaningfully used. Such amorphous lists, however, are not very useful for corralling eggcorns. This is why, I suspect, the entry for “diffuse” in the eggcorn database lacks the “Chiefly in:” descriptor that most of the other entries have.

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#31 2008-07-04 05:08:02

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I second Kem’s question about “diffuse.” “Aisle>>isle” is another example, as is “founder>>flounder.”

Last year, Arnold Zwicky made pretty much the same claim that DavidTuggy is making. In discussing pairs like “flaunt/flout,” “militate/mitigate,” “flounder/founder” in a LL article, Zwicky proposed a category of non-eggcorns that he called “flounders.” And he described them like this:

Flounders are the counterpart of ordinary classical malapropisms (“ordinary” here means: not of the eggcorn subtype). In both flounders and—let me continue this frenzy of naming with yet another term—PINEAPPLES (“He is the very pineapple [pinnacle] of politeness”, from Mrs. Malaprop herself), an incorrect word E is substituted for a phonologically similar word T, but in flounders, the error word E and the target word T also overlap semantically, while in most pineapples E and T are semantically distant (if E is an existing word at all). Obviously, there’s some room here for borderline cases.

Flounders and pineapples as a set (FLOUNDAPPLES?) are distinguished from pails and eggcorns as a set (PAILCORNS?) in that the former involve confusions of wholes, while the latter involve confusions of parts of (at least partially) fixed expressions.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language … 04805.html

You might or might not disagree with some of AZ’s examples, but the second paragraph seems to be making the same point as DT: “wholes” are excluded from the eggcorn category.

It may be worthwhile to note that this is a change of opinion for Zwicky. In the Database article on “founder>>flounder,” Chris Waigl objects to accepting the reanalysis as an eggcorn, essentially making the same point that Arnold and David later made: that “flounder” belongs to a non-eggcorn category.that has phonological and semantic overlap with “founder.” Nevertheless, at this point—nearly two years before his “flounders” post on LL—Zwicky popped up and defended the founder>>flounder reanalysis as an eggcorn. And he seems to have persuaded Chris—she left the entry. At the very least, these flounderings indicate just how subtle the boundary can seem to be.

Like Kem, I’m not sure. It’s certainly true that this “Tuggy-Zwicky-Waigl Rule” seems to account for the great majority of eggcorns. But “flounder” and Kem’s defuse/diffuse example, and the “aisle/isle” examples that have been talked about at some length on the forum still look like they’re acting like eggcorns.

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#32 2008-07-04 05:34:59

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2160

Re: Eggcorn criteria

The situation may be even worse than Pat indicates. Have you noticed that the database entry for “eggcorn” does not have a “Chiefly in:” descriptor? Eggcorn is apparently an atomic eggcorn-it can replace “acorn” in any and all contexts. If atomic eggcorns are flounders and not eggcorns, we may be on the verge of a catastrophic semantic meltdown.

My head hurts.

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#33 2008-07-04 13:32:05

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

But eggcorn is the context, the analogue of the phrase that gets reinterpreted (via malapropism of its part(s)). Within a standarized structure (usually a word or phrase) something gets substituted and the whole thing gets reinterpreted. The overall result of the reinterpretation is something close enough to the overall meaning of the original structure that it can be used in most contexts without being noticeable. This altered structure becomes standard for at least one user. When all this happens, you get what we (or at least what I) call an eggcorn.

The particular case of eggcorn is especially spectacular because this happens twice, one with “egg” and once (arguably) with “corn”. (If “corn” is not brought in new, its salience is at least greatly enhanced.)

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-07-04 14:22:15)


*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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#34 2008-07-04 14:18:51

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Re diffuse-defuse, kem writes:

I think the question we were pursuing is whether the B/Y on the eggcorn side of your diagram should be greyed out. The question, that is, whether eggcorns are invariably bound in idiomatic phrasings. The eggcorn in this case is “diffuse,” the eggcorned is “defuse.” I think the eggcorn, “diffuse,” may be atomic. The discussion on the eggcorn database site points to a specific phrase (“defuse the situation”), but “diffuse” can be erroneously substituted for “defuse” in most of the contexts in which “defuse” occurs. And since “diffuse” conveys a different but related imagery (thinning something out rather than removing a fuse from something), it is a genuine eggcorn, isn’t it?

I guess I really need to visit the database and see how these examples are listed. I can see including “diffuse the situation” or even “diffuse A TENSE/DANGEROUS SITUATION” as an eggcorn. The whole phrase would then be the standard entity within which a part is changed. And it does indeed apply a new imagery, that of dispersing some toxic or disagreeable substance to the point of ineffectiveness, rather than removing a fuse from something explosive.

But the following for me would not be an example of that eggcorn: “they discovered a car bomb in the area, which they secured and diffused”. Here diffused is a malaprop for defused .

For me cases like “it seems the court’s delay tactics are succeeding in diffusing public pressure” are not malaprops, but straight (metaphorical) application of “diffuse” to a situation. “You can diffuse tension at work by learning about the differences among your colleagues” is a neat example in that I can see it either as a straight metaphor or as a malaprop. But none of these would qualify for me as a good eggcorn.

kem said:

Atomic (or nuclear or simplex), though, is a relative term. As I pointed out earlier in this thread, “diffuse” still has a use context, even if that use context is an unbounded list of the English sentences in which “defuse” can be meaningfully used. Such amorphous lists, however, are not very useful for corralling eggcorns. This is why, I suspect, the entry for “diffuse” in the eggcorn database lacks the “Chiefly in:” descriptor that most of the other entries have.

I think you are saying that the use context may be what makes a malaprop into an eggcorn, and it may be more than one such context, to the point of being an unbounded list. I would agree, strongly in fact. But the more such contexts, to the point of a language-wide unbounded list, the less clearly you have an eggcorn and the more nearly you have a non-eggcornish malapropism.

“Egg” is substituted for “a” only in the context of the word “eggcorn”. “Egg for a” is not the eggcorn: it is “eggcorn for acorn”. The eggcorn is complex, not atomic.


*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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#35 2008-07-04 15:57:48

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2160

Re: Eggcorn criteria

“But eggcorn is the context, the analogue of the phrase that gets reinterpreted (via malapropism of its part(s))”

I don’t mean that “eggcorn” referring to an eggcorn is an atomic eggcorn. “Eggcorn” isn’t even an eggcorn when used in that sense. I mean “eggcorn” when it is used to replace “acorn.” The word switch doesn’t seem to be idiomatically embedded.

: ”’they discovered a car bomb in the area, which they secured and diffused’. Here diffused is a malaprop for defused.”

I would say that your example was an eggcorn. But even if we denied eggcorn status to any usage of “diffuse” in place of “defuse” where the object in question is an actual bomb, this still leaves a heap of metaphorical uses that could be eggcorned. You can defuse a situation, a person, a nation, a riot, a reform, a threat, a standoff, tension, stress, violence, rivalry. Presumably all of these can be eggcorned with “diffuse.”

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#36 2008-07-04 16:28:09

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

kem wrote:

I don’t mean that “eggcorn” referring to an eggcorn is an atomic eggcorn. “Eggcorn” isn’t even an eggcorn when used in that sense. I mean “eggcorn” when it is used to replace “acorn.” The word switch doesn’t seem to be idiomatically embedded.

I think we’re still not communicating. I am saying that when “eggcorn” is used to replace “acorn”, the word itself (“acorn”) is the idiomatic matrix within which a switch takes place (of “egg” for the meaningless first syllable and “corn” for the possibly meaningless second syllable).

: ”’they discovered a car bomb in the area, which they secured and diffused’. Here diffused is a malaprop for defused.” ¶ I would say that your example was an eggcorn.

I would deny it eggcorn status in that the imagery change does not make sense. I suppose it is possible that those who wrote it theought the subjects had spread the pieces of the car bomb around at such a distance from each other that they were no longer dangerous, but this seems highly unlikely.


*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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#37 2008-07-04 16:40:00

nilep
Eggcornista
Registered: 2007-03-21
Posts: 291

Re: Eggcorn criteria

This rather reminds me of the exchange kem and I (inter alia) had in “In defense of ‘eggcorn’.”
http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=2613

For me, as is apparently also the case for David, acorn contains the word corn. (Though perhaps for David it’s only eggcorn that contains corn?) That is, for me at least, corn in the sense of “a small, hard object,” or possibly in the sense of “a seed,” though not in the sense of “maize.”

For me, this makes eggcorn an apt eggcorn since it adds a new, semantically sensible element, since acorns are vaguely egg-shaped. It is also, at some level of abstraction, polylectic (containing multiple “words”). The older spelling egg corn with white space made this visibly manifest.

For David I surmise that this make eggcorn an apt eggcorn since the ‘parts’ of acorn form the context within which eggcorn makes sense. As he says, ”’Egg for a’ is not the eggcorn: it is ‘eggcorn for acorn’. The eggcorn is complex, not atomic.”

This is, I would argue, a context, even if it is embedded within a single lexical item.

(Historical note: according to the OED, my supposition that acorn contains corn is an oft-repeated but fallacious folk etymology. The actual source of acorn is apparently Old Norse akarn and related Germanic cognates. Various etymologies of the pattern oak + corn are recorded since the 15th century, though.

Does this make my understanding of acorn a stealth eggcorn?)

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#38 2008-07-04 16:59:19

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2160

Re: Eggcorn criteria

I finally see what you are saying, David. Nilep’s post helped. My mind doesn’t extract the “corn” from “acorn.” To me the word “acorn” is a unit, and the eggcorn “eggcorn” is a double-barrelled atomic substitution. For you, the theoretical structure you bring to eggcorn behavior helps you to hear the unaccented “corn” in “acorn.”

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#39 2008-07-04 17:44:34

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

My mind isn’t sure it extracts the “corn” from “acorn”, nor sure that it doesn’t. (It’s the same order of question as to whether my mind extracts the “halt” from “halter” or not: it can in some sense, but I am morally certain that 99 times out of 100 I just use the word as a unit, not paying attention to any possible internal complexity.)

That is why I grayed out the b/B in my diagram. The source (original, eggcorned, T) need not be internally complex. In the case of “acorn” it is certainly not clearly so.

The eggcorn (E) is internally complex, however. The substitution(s) is of part(s), not of the undifferentiated whole.

(Hope we’re still tracking together, kem :-) )

btw and fwiw, the “true” historical etymology is, to my mind, an interesting but non-determinative consideration. If many/most of those who today use the word “acorn” think “corn” has something to do with it, that trumps, for me, what somebody in the 15th century or earlier understood about the ancestor to the word. Similarly, I know that “ear” of corn is etymologically from something different from “ear” on your head, but I still would say that for many modern speakers “ear” of corn is a kind of metaphorical/metonymical use of the more prototypical “ear”.

Anybody know if akarn and those germanic cognates are related to corn if you go back to Indo-European?


*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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#40 2008-07-04 22:38:24

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

Re: Eggcorn criteria

In response to DT’s last question, Calvert Watkins in the AHD of IE Roots says no—he derives ‘corn” from IE gre-no (the e is really a schwa, the r is really syllabic, and of course there should be a hyphen at the end)—meaning “grain.” The OED says that “acorn” is related to OE “aecer,” and Watkins derives the latter from IE agro—meaning “field.”

But there’s a flaw in the ointment: CW doesn’t seem to follow the OED in its derivation of “acorn” from OE “aecer.” He derives it from IE og (macron over the o)—meaning “fruit, berry” (and related to Latin “uva” for grape, and our “uvular”). And there isn’t an indication in either entry that we should see the og and agro roots as being related.

[Later edit after a phone call: If I had a more exhaustive source to work with, it’d be interesting to see if anyone else thinks some of the roots listed above are actually related—I don’t know how much difference of opinion may be hidden here. But Watkins’ annotations are necessarily minimal.]

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-07-04 22:56:55)

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#41 2008-07-05 22:59:43

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2160

Re: Eggcorn criteria

This thread has been a learning journey for me. Those of us who play around with eggcorns have always been aware that eggcorns are typically embedded in an idiomatic context. The “chiefly in” paragraph in the eggcorn database reinforces this feature of eggcorns. It had not occurred to me, however, that idiomatic embeddedness was essential for eggcorns. I was quite surprised to see this feature represented in DT’s diagram and to read his subsequent assertion that all eggcorns are embedded in idioms. Then Pat pointed out that Zwicky seems to have evolved his notion of eggcorns in same direction, to the point of inventing a new category of slips (flounders) to describe unembedded words that display some eggcornish features.

So far I’m not convinced that idiomatic embeddedness is an absolute requirement for an eggcorn, and I sense that Pat also has his doubts. It would be interesting to hear what others on this forum think about this issue. In one way I’m attracted to the idea of embeddedness-it narrows down the scope of eggcorns and gives us an additional rule that we can use to determine whether slips are really eggcorns. In another way, though, I’m repelled by the idea, worried that we will lose some good eggcorns. The ambiguity I sense in myself is a lot like the ambiguity I feel in my activities as a field naturalist. When botanists find plants with characteristics that are intermediate between two traditional species, they have to decide whether to put the new and old plants into one larger species or whether to break the species down into several subspecies. My track record with plants is not very consistent. Sometimes I side with the lumpers, sometimes with the splitters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpers_and_splitters). On the issue of idomatic embedding, I side (for now at least) with the lumpers-I don’t want to see eggcorns broken down into non-interbreeding subtypes over this issue.

If we lumpers are going to embrace atomic eggcorns and reject the necessity of idiomatic embeddedness, then it seems to me that we need explain why eggcorns so often occur in the context of an idiom. There is one rather obvious explanation: idioms become vehicles for preserving the archaic words and the archaic meanings of familiar words that lend themselves to being eggcorned. Speakers say “bold-faced lie” and “do diligence” because the embedding idioms have preserved senses of “bald” and “due” that do not ring our semantic bells. Similarly, “exuberant prices” and “fermenting unrest” are off-the-cuff responses to little-used words (“exhorbitant,” “foment”) that idioms have kept in circulation long past their stale date. A second explanation for the prevalence of embedding idioms concerns the problem of eggcorn discovery. When we encounter eggcorns outside an idiomatic context, especially eggcorns where the eggcorned word is not archaic or uncommon (the common substitution of “isle” for “aisle,” for example), we don’t immediately know whether we are dealing with a simple misspelling or with a real eggcorn. We have to go looking for some evidence of the alternate imagery, and, as we all know, evidence for substituted imagery is not easy to find. For both of these reasons, I think, few eggcorns have made it into the eggcorn database that are not embedded in idioms, and the scarcity of these atomic eggcorns raises questions about their validity.

Last edited by kem (2008-07-06 17:23:39)

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#42 2008-07-07 16:29:28

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1793
Website

Re: Eggcorn criteria

Interesting and useful meditations, there, kem.

As I see it, the category “eggcorn” is still under construction, or to say it another way, is in the middle of an unusually conscious, careful and purposeful process of conventionalization. It is largely up to us vocal members of the community, in agreement with or reaction to the pronouncements from our Academy (Pullum, Zwicky, Waigl and others) to decide what are the limits of the category.

It is an exemplar-based category: the eponym rather guarantees that. It also partakes of the bottom-up usage-based nature of categories generally, in that as other exemplars besides “eggcorn” itself are judged by most or all of us to be members in good standing, constraints on membership are reinforced or relaxed.

In my mind and perhaps others’, the question of what is the most useful category is prominent. There are lots of related things which have always fascinated me and brought me much enjoyment, but they are not like “eggcorn” in every respect, and many of them already had been usefully named (e.g. malapropisms, mondegreens, idiom blends, ...) So I like to define “eggcorn” in ways that usefully distinguish eggcorns from prime exemplars of those categories.

So, really, I’m saying it is ultimately up to us whether idiomatic embeddedness is essential for eggcorns.

you wrote, kem.

So far I’m not convinced that idiomatic embeddedness is an absolute requirement for an eggcorn, […]. In another way, though, I’m repelled by the idea, worried that we will lose some good eggcorns.

I guess I don’t see us as losing them if we were to choose not to include them in the category. I love mondegreens, malapropisms, idiom blends, etc. just as much as eggcorns, and deciding that a particular example fits better in one of those categories doesn’t mean I lose it. Anyway, on my understanding of categories, it is perfectly fine to include non-prototypical examples as belonging in their degree to a category (and often then simultaneously to other categories as well).

The ambiguity I sense in myself is a lot like the ambiguity I feel in my activities as a field naturalist. When botanists find plants with characteristics that are intermediate between two traditional species, they have to decide whether to put the new and old plants into one larger species or whether to break the species down into several subspecies. My track record with plants is not very consistent. Sometimes I side with the lumpers, sometimes with the splitters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpers_and_splitters). On the issue of idomatic embedding, I side (for now at least) with the lumpers-I don’t want to see eggcorns broken down into non-interbreeding subtypes over this issue.

This is a good analogy. It is indeed the same kind of issue/process.

Why would they be non-interbreeding? The fact that we give something a different name doesn’t keep there from being all kinds of cross-fertilization among the categories.

[…] it seems to me that we need explain why eggcorns so often occur in the context of an idiom. There is one rather obvious explanation: idioms become vehicles for preserving the archaic words and the archaic meanings of familiar words that lend themselves to being eggcorned.

That is right on. (To my mind it doesn’t follow that therefore the idiomatic embeddedness should or shouldn’t be used as criterial for eggcornhood.)

A second explanation for the prevalence of embedding idioms concerns the problem of eggcorn discovery. When we encounter eggcorns outside an idiomatic context, especially eggcorns where the eggcorned word is not archaic or uncommon (the common substitution of “isle” for “aisle,” for example), we don’t immediately know whether we are dealing with a simple misspelling or with a real eggcorn. We have to go looking for some evidence of the alternate imagery, and, as we all know, evidence for substituted imagery is not easy to find. For both of these reasons, I think, few eggcorns have made it into the eggcorn database that are not embedded in idioms, and the scarcity of these atomic eggcorns raises questions about their validity.

Well, to me it’s more questions about the criteria those guarding the database used. These examples are certainly valid somethings . The question is whether they are valid eggcorns, and that is a matter of definition.

If I were to ask somebody why they called it an [ajl] (aisle/isle) in the supermarket and they replied because it goes is the edge of the island that the groceries are shelved on, that would make it plain to me that they indeed had different imagery. But it wouldn’t particularly make me want to call isle an eggcorn.

Clearly, to me, the prototype for the category has both embeddedness in an idiomatic setting or set of settings and clear alternative imagery (nevertheless allowing for continued usage in the idiomatic setting(s). You are for saying that of these the alternative imagery is the only criterial feature. I think there are many usages, central members of my pre-established categories of malaprops, mondegreens, etc., that exhibit that feature, and which I don’t see a need to include as eggcorns. I am for saying the combination of both features (along with standardness to some speakers) should be kept criterial. But it is a matter of definition.

(Sorry to be so long. Hope it’s not been totally incoherent :-) )

Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-07-07 16:39:17)


*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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