Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
I’ve moved this from the cramps my style thread, since it departs from discussion of that fuzzy spot. In fact this posting is probably not eggcornology at all; it’s properly categorized as “language geek-ery.”
One of these meanings of “cramp” (cramp 1 ) hints at confining or constraining something, often with force. From this sense we get the name of the carpenter’s cramp (hint for North Americans–this is the same as a carpenter’s clamp). The other meaning of “cramp” (cramp 2 ) suggests a sudden contraction, often the contraction of a muscle, as in the phrase “writer’s cramp.”
Although they are both nouns, Kem’s cramp.1 and cramp.2 somehow remind me of the causative / inchoative pattern in verbs with transitive and intransitive uses. Compare close.1/2 and break.1/2 with cramp.1/2:
1. Zoltan closed the door.
2. The door closed.
3. Zora broke the vase.
4. The vase broke.
Both close.1 and break.1 are causative: an agent causes a change in state. This “hints at [doing an action to] something,” not unlike the noun cramp.1. Close.2 and break.2, on the other hand, “suggest a sudden [occurrence],” similar to cramp.2. (Linguists call such verbs inchoative or inceptive because they indicate the beginning of a new state. I have a recollection of David explaining this before, but can’t find it using the ‘search’ function.)
Given this resemblance, it is notable that the OED lists only one heading for cramp as a verb. As Kem noted at cramps my style, the etymology for the verb reads, “Strictly two words from CRAMP n.1 and CRAMP n.2 respectively; but these have run together in use, and have given rise to senses which partake of both notions.”
OED suggests that the two nouns ultimately derive from the same word, Old High German chrampf “bent, compressed.” They seem to have parted ways some time between thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, when each entered English from Low German or Dutch. They were then reunited in the English verb.
...and to add a bit of further geek-ery:
5. He cramped the blasting cap onto one end of the fuse with his teeth.
(http://www.casahamaca.com/pblog/index.p … 516-115455)
6. Serena’s calf muscle cramped.
(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/ … 017640.ece)
7. The kids majorly cramped my style today at hamentashen baking time.
That’s a literal transitive/causative cramp, a literal intransitive/inchoative cramp, and the metaphorical (transitive) cramp my style.
OED lists only a single verb entry for close and for break, parallel to the single cramp verb. It calls the intransitive uses “reflexive”, but the definition actually suggests change of state. (Note the word “become”.)
2. intr. (for refl.) To shut itself, become shut. Const. to close upon or over (what has entered, rarely upon what is without).