Eggcorn Forum

Discussions about eggcorns and related topics

You are not logged in.

Announcement

Registrations are temporarily closed as we're receiving a steady stream of registration spam.

Anyone who wishes to register, please email me at chris dot waigl at gmail dot com with the desired username and a valid email address, and I will register you manually.

Thanks for your understanding.

Chris -- 2011-03-08

#1 2008-08-26 16:17:23

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2095

b-line << bee-line

Some years ago I began to notice the spelling “b-line” for bee-line. This week I recalled this curious error and did some spade work to find out how common it really was. I began by googlling the phrase “make/made a b-line.” I got 25,000+ hits (700+ ughits). Then I turned to COCA, the Corpus of Contemporary English. It yielded seven examples of this switch in its 360 million words, versus 135 examples of “make/made beeline.” The COCA data implies that five percent of the time that the idiom is used, it is misused.

Almost all the examples on the web have the same format. A typical one:

Response post to a blog entry: “For years, he has been missing the taste of dog meat and so the first thing he did in China was make a B-line to the street vendor that sold dog meat….” (http://www.diet-blog.com/archives/2008/ … t_free.php)

Zwicky uses “b-line” as his example of a pail in his post on “Pails and Flounders” (http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language … 04805.html). Pails are not eggcorns, he says, merely odd idioms with word substitutions selected without any semantic justification, as in the phrase “beyond the pail.”

Is there really no justification for the “b-line” switch? I wonder. Earlier this year someone posed the question “Why is it called ‘taking a B line’ when you walk a straight deliberate path?” on the Yahoo Answers forum (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index … 730AAWGjuz). Ten people responded to the question or voted for one of the answers already given. Most of them made the correct response, pointing out that the phrase was “bee-line,” not “b-line.” One of the respondents who didn’t get it right (and the only one who got a right-answer vote) said “because there is a straight line in a B.” Another said that “the shortest distance from A to B is a straight line. Taking a B-Line is going straight there.” A third responder agreed with the second: “The shortest distance is in a straight line, ergo from point A to point B! if you prefer call it an A line, but B sounds Better….”

So four out of ten respondents came up with a reasonable, though incorrect, explanation of “b-line.” Extrapolating this percentage suggests that there may be two hundred unique web pages out there in which the persons using the idiom “make a b-line” were committing an eggcorn.

The moral of the story: when we encounter a really common malaprop, it is always worth speculating about the motivation behind the change. Even an implausible explanation could be basis for a large number of independent eggcornings.

Last edited by kem (2008-08-26 16:19:51)

Offline

 

#2 2008-08-26 16:53:18

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1749
Website

Re: b-line << bee-line

A-line is already pre-empted, for at least some of us, by the a-line skirt, but anyway. I think those respondents on Yahoo Answers are right that more than a few think of the shortest line from A to B. This will be a hidden acorn until they come to write it.

You said “four out of 10”. Was the fourth one the one who voted in favor of the straight line used in writing the letter b?


*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 .)

Offline

 

#3 2008-08-26 16:56:31

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2095

Re: b-line << bee-line

“Was the fourth one the one who voted in favor of the straight line used in writing the letter b?”

Yes.

Offline

 

#4 2008-08-26 19:29:30

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

Re: b-line << bee-line

The respondents on a Yahoo Answers question constitute a statistically representative sampling? I kinda hope not, given some of the threads I’ve seen.

Offline

 

#5 2008-08-26 20:23:15

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

Re: b-line << bee-line

This is an interesting challenge to David’s “perpetrator of the eggcorn” formulation, which I attempted to expand into a theory. http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/forum/view … hp?id=3028

The Yahoo Answers-ers (at least four of them) are able to construct a likely explanation for why a B-line is so called. But are they perpetrators – individuals who produce the eggcorn – or overhearers, who are merely able to make sense of it after the fact?

It’s entirely possible that these individuals first encountered B-line in the writing of another individual – the original perpetrator, if you will. But it’s equally possible that they then went out and used the form as encountered, since they were able to make sense of it.

In this case, are they now equally perpetrators of the eggcorn?

Offline

 

#6 2008-08-26 20:32:18

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1749
Website

Re: b-line << bee-line

I would class them as perpetrators, if they consciously use the new form with the new meaning in mind. They needn’t be the original perpetrator for their usage to count.

I expect that many eggcorns are in fact mondegrenous in origin: the original perpetrator was responding to what he thought he heard, when the person who actually spoke on that occasion was innocent of any guilt in the matter.

“They then went out and used the form as encountered, since they were able to make sense of it.” Isn’t that how we all learn and use our language?


*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 .)

Offline

 

#7 2008-08-26 21:51:12

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

Re: b-line << bee-line

Increasingly I feel that what’s going on in the minds of eggcorners can be very “messy” and hard to define. I think it’s possible for someone to use “b-line” with no more thought than, say, “Well, that seems vaguely to make sense in some way I’m not going to bother working out right now,” and they may or may not have some barely-articulated-at-all sense that the form has something to do with the straightness of the main line in the B, or with the movement from A to B, or all of those together, or whatever. And then when the question is overtly posed, something else happens. Because their use of the form over time without challenge has made them used to it, they’re more likely to defend it, and at that point they work to articulate a defense—one that may not have been there before. Or one that didn’t have quite the same form and development earlier. And/or one that might not be there in a few months if they’re not given cause to think too hard about things.

Don’t get me wrong—some eggcorners have a well-thought out justification behind their reshapings and will defend it to the death. But I think for some other speakers, reshapings pop up at just the point where their grasp on a standard usage is starting to curve downward—we’re talking about the sorts of usage that they don’t actually use much or think about often. And I think what the Yahoo Answers thread hides is all those “b-line” users who suddenly realized with an embarrassing certainty—at exactly the second they saw someone else using and talking about “bee-line”—that they’d been using a non-standard form. For some such people, some part of their brain may already have been familiar with “beeline,” and in retrospect they might have trouble saying why they chose the non-standard form in the first place. Those people wouldn’t reply to the thread for obvious reasons—but I’m convinced they’re out there. I’ve occasionally been one of them—not for “b-line,” but for other reshapings.

I also find myself at times wondering about all those posts on casual discussion forums where people use a standard form in one part of a paragraph and then a reshaping three sentences later. Those of us on this forum tend to think it’s a case of “partial correction”—and I’ve said that myself—but increasingly, I wonder. I think some strange things may coexist in the same brain.

(As almost an aside, there are so many psychological and social factors at work on a Yahoo Answers thread that we can’t know about easily. Which of these posters are friends, and more likely to defend their friends’ choices? Who has a reputation for being cool and smart and therefore worth emulating? Who’s carrying over a battle of egos from another thread? Who’s just being mischievous? And perhaps most relevantly, are people who are using a non-standard form more motivated to speak up and say something in numbers that proportionally far outstrip their representation in the populace at large when they see a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls dissing their usage at the beginning of the thread? It’s an anthropological jungle out there.)

It’s hard to talk about the cognitive processes taking place inside people’s skulls, and here on the forum we generally talk about people believing that the standard form is either “x” or “y.” But I think the reality is much fuzzier. Or fussier. Or messier.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-08-26 22:01:06)

Offline

 

#8 2008-08-26 22:11:24

Chris Waigl
Eggcorn Faerie
From: London, UK
Registered: 2005-10-14
Posts: 115
Website

Re: b-line << bee-line

I agree with everything you say, and this is (as usual) a very thoughtful take on it.

patschwieterman wrote:

I think it’s possible for someone to use “b-line” with no more thought than, say, “Well, that seems vaguely to make sense in some way I’m not going to bother working out right now,”

But isn’t this the same with non-eggcorns? Doesn’t the above reflect the way many people generally think about the words, expressions and idioms they use?

Offline

 

#9 2008-08-27 14:29:15

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2095

Re: b-line << bee-line

When the Yahoo Answers page is ranked according to time of submission, we see that the correct answer (a straight bee flight) was the first response given and that an affirmation of the correct answer was the second submission. The wrong answers came later. So those giving the wrong answers must have had some minimal conviction that their answer was correct.

One should, of course, take into account the Hollywood Squares effect when consulting Yahoo Answer pages. It’s possible that wrong answers might have been given on purpose, as a joke. I don’t think, though, that all of the wrong answers to the question about “b-lines” were given as jokes. They seem to me too reasonable, too unfunny, to have been proffered as jokes (If I’m wrong, this wouldn’t be the first joke I have missed.).

If we have reached the point where we demand alternate imagery for a word to count as an eggcorn, and at the same time we discount explicit reporting of relevant alternate imagery by those who make the error, haven’t we put ourselves in an impossible situation? As Chris suggests, we can’t demand more of an eggcorn than we demand of everyday speech. The Chinese room of meaning will always resist full disclosure, even for the simplest of semantic references. We make our best guesses at what is happening in the room and proceed as though our guess was correct.

Last edited by kem (2008-08-27 14:33:22)

Offline

 

#10 2008-08-27 14:33:05

DavidTuggy
Eggcornista
From: Mexico
Registered: 2007-10-12
Posts: 1749
Website

Re: b-line << bee-line

patschwieterman wrote:

(As almost an aside, there are so many psychological and social factors at work on a Yahoo Answers thread that we can’t know about easily. Which of these posters are friends, and more likely to defend their friends’ choices? Who has a reputation for being cool and smart and therefore worth emulating? Who’s carrying over a battle of egos from another thread? Who’s just being mischievous? And perhaps most relevantly, are people who are using a non-standard form more motivated to speak up and say something in numbers that proportionally far outstrip their representation in the populace at large when they see a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls dissing their usage at the beginning of the thread? It’s an anthropological jungle out there.)
.
It’s hard to talk about the cognitive processes taking place inside people’s skulls, and here on the forum we generally talk about people believing that the standard form is either “x” or “y.” But I think the reality is much fuzzier. Or fussier. Or messier.

Amens from the choir.


*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 .)

Offline

 

#11 2008-08-27 14:39:39

TootsNYC
Eggcornista
Registered: 2007-06-19
Posts: 263

Re: b-line << bee-line

Pat wrote: “The respondents on a Yahoo Answers question constitute a statistically representative sampling? I kinda hope not, given some of the threads I’ve seen.”

For eggcorn certification (ooh, doesn’t that sound official?), I don’t think you need any proof of “representativeness.” In my belief structure, a single mental recasting is all that’s needed to earn the label.

Nilep asked: ” But are they perpetrators – individuals who produce the eggcorn – or overhearers, who are merely able to make sense of it after the fact?

It’s entirely possible that these individuals first encountered B-line in the writing of another individual – the original perpetrator, if you will. But it’s equally possible that they then went out and used the form as encountered, since they were able to make sense of it.

In this case, are they now equally perpetrators of the eggcorn?”

Yes. In fact, there is no difference to me between the person who uses an eggcorn it because they “hear” a different spelling and the person who uses the eggcorn because they saw a different spelling.

Both ended up w/ a different spelling in their heads, and both mentally went through the process of explaining it without questioning it.

Offline

 

#12 2008-08-27 18:58:32

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

Re: b-line << bee-line

patschwieterman wrote:

It’s hard to talk about the cognitive processes taking place inside people’s skulls, and here on the forum we generally talk about people believing that the standard form is either “x” or “y.” But I think the reality is much fuzzier. Or fussier. Or messier.

Yes, quite so. I think my instinct – or is it a wish? – is to say, “Yes, that’s clearly in the category,” or “No, that doesn’t cross the threshold.” But of course, that’s misguided. It ignores both the fuzziness of the boundary of any particular eggcorn / malaprop and the inconsistent location of that boundary from case to case. What a piece of work is man!

On another point, David, Chris, TootsNYC et alia are quite right that it makes no difference whether one does the reshaping oneself from standard forms (the “original perpetrator”), or one acquires the eggcorn from other users. In either case, one is using – and understanding – a nonstandard and innovative (in the sociolinguistic sense) form. What matters is usage, not the conditions of acquisition.

Offline

 

#13 2008-09-07 07:20:47

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

Re: b-line << bee-line

This rich and interesting thread was going great guns just as I was making the last frenzied preparations for the Fall semester and had to turn my attention elsewhere—and then I also (once again) lost internet connectivity. So a very late reply here.

I wrote:

I think it’s possible for someone to use “b-line” with no more thought than, say, “Well, that seems vaguely to make sense in some way I’m not going to bother working out right now,”

To which Chris replied:

But isn’t this the same with non-eggcorns? Doesn’t the above reflect the way many people generally think about the words, expressions and idioms they use?

Well, if I understand the thrust of Chris’s question (and though it looks simple, I’m not entirely sure I do), my answer has to be yes and no. Yes, in that any word can theoretically be an eggcorn or be eggcorned. No, in that I think most of us have both a core and a periphery to our lexicons, and I believe things work differently in those two places. Items like “dog” and “spoon” and “wear your heart on your sleeve” are in my core lexicon, and the chance that any variant will compete with them is virtually nil. Until the Old Timers’ sets in, I’m never going to be uncertain about the forms of those words/phrases. I probably don’t think much about why they mean what they mean, but I’ll always be sure that I don’t have to think about their semantics in normal usage.

But out in what I call the “messy zone,” the forces governing word selection get stranger and fuzzier. At the edges of our lexicon, I believe two (or more) potentially contradictory things may be happening simultaneously. First of all, we often have some vague sense that our hold on the forms/meanings of words out there is weaker, so the question of how a word means what it means is more likely to come up—even if it manifests itself only very vaguely as a momentary, never-quite-articulated concern. At the same time, however, the feeling that we just aren’t all that familiar with these words may also take away the need to think through the possibilities really carefully. In other words, since we sense that we don’t know the form/usage with certainty, we may sometimes unconsciously feel more liberty to accept the first form that offers itself up as a more or less likely-looking candidate. Something like “b-line” doesn’t necessarily have to make a lot of sense—if it’s over the border from someone’s core lexicon, it can get employed even with a vague, half-formed justification. And I think that’s a different process than the ones that occur with words a little closer to the “middle.”

I believe that there’s also a different if related thing that’s happening out in the messy zone as well: two variants of the same phrase can rub shoulders without calling too much attention to each other. I’ll bet there are people who write “bee-line” on one day and “b-line” the next. And they might be able to produce some kind of justification for both. And they might also decide to reject one of those two forms if someone challenges them on it—using a reasoning that just hadn’t occurred to them before a challenge was raised. I worried a bit therefore that the sort of remarks that one gets on a Yahoo Answers thread might not reflect what’s really happening in people’s brains when they’re not forced to confront their own lexical choices. The presence of the YA thread itself is a challenge that draws attention to the existence of two or more variants where it’s likely that only one is standard. And that realization might elicit different processes for people than those that would take place in their heads without the overt “challenge.” The thread discussion might have the tendency to harden inchoate phantoms into solid certainties, and to force responders to choose just one of multiple options that would have peacefully coexisted in the same brain otherwise.

My own comments here may in themselves seem a bit vague and hard to provide evidence for, but they’re the conclusions I’ve slowly come to after three years of puzzling over the very strange things that people write.

Turning to a slightly different topic, Kem expressed concern above that some of us may be holding eggcorns to a different “standard” than other English words. I see his point, but it doesn’t bother me—at least not anymore. Some time ago I finally got comfortable with the idea that eggcorns simply belong to a category of words that meet certain criteria. If the word satisfies the criteria as I formulate them, I call it an eggcorn; otherwise, it fails the test. My criteria have implicit in them an implied evidentiary component that simply isn’t applicable to most words in the language. Eggcorns are an attempt to make meaning out of opacity, and it seems reasonable to me to expect that that attempt should leave traces of some kind.

Finally, I should note that I’m something of a fence-sitter when it comes to “b-line.” I wasn’t sure about Zwicky’s negative judgment on it; I’m not sure about Kem’s defense of it. I’m content to be uncertain.

.

Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-09-07 07:28:00)

Offline

 

#14 2008-09-08 17:21:25

kem
Eggcornista
From: Victoria, BC
Registered: 2007-08-28
Posts: 2095

Re: b-line << bee-line

I like Pat’s insightful division of language into core and non-core components, with many gradations between. One of the important criteria we apply to judge the aesthetics of an eggcorn relates to this core/periphery distinction. Good eggcorns drill right to the nerve of our workaday assumptions about language. Eggcorns that live in Pat’s “messy zone” reach us through a novocaine haze.

But we are talking about aesthetics, are we not? There is a bar that says “eggcorn,” then another bar that says “good eggcorn,” another that says “classic eggcorn,” etc. B-line is a mediocre eggcorn, for several reasons, including its residence in the far suburbs of Englishtown. To say it isn’t an eggcorn, though, calls into question whether we share a common definition of what an eggcorn is.

I have no problem with aesthetics-I’m all for discussing what makes eggcorns good and bad. In talking about the aesthetics of eggcorns we are doing much more than stating personal preferences. We are exploring the dynamic role of eggcorns in the phonology and semantics of our language. We are also expanding our ability to recognize standard eggcorn patterns. And, to top it all off, we get make some really bad puns.

Offline

 

#15 2008-09-18 13:30:10

Rick Aster
Member
Registered: 2006-05-12
Posts: 16

Re: b-line << bee-line

I like this one!

I would think b line would be a perfectly natural text messaging abbreviation, and that may be part of its origin.

I have to point out, and I think it might be relevant to some of the points in this thread, that be-line and be line are also out there. Just one example:

As we made a be-line to his office, which was kiddie corner from the entrance door, Curt told me the company would not have any place to put the people it needed to hire. [http://www.zoominfo.com/people/Benton_Curtis_3627904.aspx]

Offline

 

#16 2011-11-05 00:49:58

David Bird
Eggcornista
From: Montréal, QC
Registered: 2009-07-28
Posts: 1166

Re: b-line << bee-line

A bead line is presumably related to “taking a bead” on something.

I left the bathroom, saw a bunch of “strait” men whipping each other with towels while their incredibly hot lady friends played in the hot tub… I walked past them, and made a beadline to the hot tub,,,
Adult swim

When we arrived at 11pm, most everyone took a bead-line to a bed or couch
http://goetiaproject.livejournal.com/9663.html

The GOP get a look at this movement and make a bead line to the front.
http://segfault-generator.blogspot.com/

“Divers make a bead line for the wrecks after seeing some of the documentaries about them.
http://www.divenewsnetwork.com/componen … dwest.html

He made a bead line for the goal. He was tackled by a large defender.
http://forums.khinsider.com/roleplaying … 2-a-5.html

Offline

 

Board footer

Powered by PunBB
PunBB is © 2002–2005 Rickard Andersson
Individual posters retain the copyright to their posts.

RSS feeds: active topicsall new posts