Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
patschwieterman wrote (re stroking one’s creativity):
David Tuggy wrote: ¶ An idiom blend is an eggcorn if the result of the blending (a) involves a reanalysis, substituting plausible new imagery for the imagery of the original (the acorn), (b) sounds/looks enough like the acorn that the difference is not highly noticeable (in either the spoken or the written mode) and© is standard for at least some speaker(s).
The problem for me is that this seems to work best in precisely those situations where one doesn’t need to invoke a blend to explain a reshaping. Could this be a blend? Yes, I think so. Could it have arisen if “stroke your ego” didn’t exist in the language but everything else did? Yes, absolutely. And nothing here proves to me that the speaker was thinking of “stroke one’s ego” on any level.
And David, this sentence has me baffled: ¶ Idiom blending has to do with how one of these beautiful structures might arise; eggcornicity has to do with the result. ¶ Uh, uh….
Sorry to be baffling—that usually means I either don’t really understand what I’m talking about as well as I think I do, or I haven’t explained even what I understand well, or both. Let me try to say it in a different way.
Blending is a process by which new linguistic structures (words, phrases, what have you) are produced. It involves a language user combining aspects of two different structures to produce one new one. The nominalized form of the term, “a blend”, refers either to that process or to the single structure that results.
An eggcorn is not a process (though we can probably verbalize the word and denote whatever process produced the eggcorn as “eggcorning”). It is a linguistic structure or configuration that can be brought about by any of several processes or a combination of them. Blending may produce it; metathesis (e.g. spoonerism) may occasionally produce it; the kind of mishearing that produces mondegreens may lay an eggcorn, or the attempt to reproduce something not wholly familiar that produces malapropisms.
By whatever process it arises, an eggcorn is a case where a standard linguistic structure (an acorn) is reanalyzed (has different imagery associated to it) in a way that permits it to be used easily in many or most of its normal contexts without strain (the overall meaning, and the sound/written form, remain quite similar), and this reanalyzed structure is standard for some who do not know that the acorn is standard.
If such a structure arises from blending, it will be a blend and an eggcorn. (E.g.: stroking one’s creativity.) If it arises from mishearing, it will be a mondegreen and an eggcorn. (E.g. it takes two to tangle.) If it arises from the right kind of metathesis it will be a spoonerism and an eggcorn (e.g. flutterby); if it arises from unfamiliarity with the acorn it will be a malapropism and an eggcorn (most examples —the definition almost demands it).
Does that make sense?
Last edited by DavidTuggy (2008-10-08 14:38:07)
*If the human mind were simple enough for us to understand,
we would be too simple-minded to understand it* .
David, I can’t begin to answer you on a technical level. :-) I think that the way I responded to the stroke/stoke submission was simply responding in the manner to which I had been responded or seen others responding here on the forum. I have seen any number submissions responded to with, in essence, “Well, that’s not really an eggcorn, it’s an idiom blend.” Or, “That’s not an eggcorn, it’s a malaprop.” When I first joined the site, the definition of eggcorn seemed to be narrower than what you are proposing. The idea seemed to be filtering out most submissions (in a kindly way, of course) so that the ones that made it through the gauntlet, through the crucible of critical discussion, had proved their mettle. Now it almost seems the tide has turned and we are bent on finding the eggcornicity of most submissions: “It’s a malaprop and an eggcorn!”
I am not meaning to be critical. I am just pointing out what seems to be a shift in the approach that some of us on the forum are taking, and explaining why I told our flutterby poster that it was a spoonerism and our stroke/stoke submitter that that was (I thought) an idiom blend.
Feeling quite combobulated.
It seems that I can (and have, to the apparent consternation of some regular posters) agree with both Jon and David’s suggestions.
One one hand, filtering out malaprops, spoonerisms, etc. that don’t feature new semantic imagery or are not thought of as standard by some users both strengthens the concept of the eggcorn and adds to our appreciation or understanding of those eggcorns that, as Jon says, prove their mettle.
On the other hand, many eggcorns are also blends or classical malaprops or what have you. To me, the definition of “eggcorn” hinges on the creation of new, comprehensible semantic understanding, as well as use of the eggcorn in place of the original acorn. If that is the case, then the process by which the eggcorn is perpetrated or created is not essential.
While I’m at it, let me express a disagreement with Mark Liberman.
It’s not a folk etymology, because this is the usage of one person rather than an entire speech community.
It’s not a malapropism, because “egg corn” and “acorn” are really homonyms (at least in casual pronunciation), while pairs like “allegory” for “alligator,” “oracular” for “vernacular” and “fortuitous” for “fortunate” are merely similar in sound (and may also share some aspects of spelling and morphemic content).
It’s not a mondegreen because the mis-construal is not part of a song or poem or similar performance.
Liberman’s “it”, of course, is what would soon come to be called “an eggcorn”.
David has addressed the relationship to malapropism and mondegreen. I think, in a similar way, we need not exclude folk etymology from eggcornicity. In fact, the Database includes a “nearly mainstream” tag. The difference between folk etymology and eggcorn is, like the other differences David describes, one of the analyst’s focus, rather than any essential characteristic of the form. That is, if we focus on the “ethno-etymology”—where people think a form came from—we may regard a form as a folk etymology. If, instead, we regard the relationship between form and meaning, we might call the same form an eggcorn.
(Lord, but I do go on.)
You may disagree with Liberman, but I’m not sure he (or anyone on this forum, for that matter) would disagree with you. Almost exactly a yearafter he wrote that post that launched a thousand posts, he also wrote:
The term “eggcorn”, meaning a nonce or sporadic folk etymology, was coined by Geoff Pullum almost exactly one year ago—September 30, 2004.
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/language … 01493.html
Here he calls eggcorns fe’s rather than calling fe’s eggcorns, but I think it’s pretty clear that he too sees them as essentially one thing differentiated largely by the analyst’s focus. I do find his distinction useful however—to most people, what MYL calls fe’s and what he calls eggcorns seem like very different things.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2008-10-08 21:42:12)