scapegoat » escape goat

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • This replacement was an escape goat for a vindictive coward. (The Writer's Association)
  • In the eyes of most Somalis, these Warlords are using Ethiopia as an escape goat to achieve their political agenda… (Somali News, Google cache)
  • However after the way i’ve been treated by people lately i have no reason to pass it on to autographmania, and the fact the people are still having to hide behind closed doors and then using me as an escape goat is starting to really get on my nerves. (TimeWarp Rocky Horror Forums)

Like many other eggcorns, _escape goat_ is often used in puns, for example by the record label of this name.

Note by Ben Zimmer, Nov. 15, 2010: As explained by Merrill Perlman in “Passing the Blame” (CJR Language Corner, 11/15/10), the change of scapegoat to escape goat simply brings it into line with its etymological origins:

The concept of the “scapegoat” is in the Bible, in Leviticus, as part of the ritual of atonement. The word “scape-goat” itself, though, did not appear until 1530, according to The Oxford English Dictionary: “In the Mosaic ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev. xvi), that one of two goats that was chosen by lot to be sent alive into the wilderness, the sins of the people having been symbolically laid upon it, while the other was appointed to be sacrificed.” That first goat escaped death, though it was loaded with sin. Since “scape” was merely a spelling variation of “escape,” it was, literally, an “escape goat.” Maybe “escaped goat” would be more grammatically correct, but no matter.

See also scapegoat » scrapegoat.

| 4 comments | link | entered by Tom Phillips, 2005/03/31 |

fount » font

Chiefly in:   font of knowledge , font of wisdom

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “She was a font of wisdom and good sense.” (American Heritage Dictionary, 4th ed.)

The noun “knowledge” in the heading stands in for a variety of abstract nouns.

Treated at some length in my Language Log piece of 28 March 2005, “Chomping at the Font”. The noun “font”, as in “baptismal font” and “type font” and as a variant of poetic and metaphorical “fount” ’source, repository’, has been steadily gaining on metaphorical “fount”; this is a replacement of a less frequent and more specialized word by a more frequent phonologically similar word that makes sense in the context.

| 2 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/29 |

champ at the bit » chomp at the bit

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • Electronics makers chomping at the bit. (Taipei Times, Mar 16, 2004)
  • Well, regarding one congregation in the previously referenced sextet, the previously referenced Grace Church in Orange Park, a casual visitor sitting in on a parish meeting would get the impression they are chomping at the bit to leave the Episcopal Church USA. (soc.motss, Aug 20, 2005)
  • “But I wouldn’t say [they’re frustrated], I think our players are just chomping at the bit to go.” ( Sport, August 19, 2005)
  • “I personally have never had the chance to see Fallen Angels on anything larger than a 27-inch television,” Marchetti told The Reeler. “So I’m kind of chomping at the bit for that one.” (The Reeler, NYC, Aug 19, 2005)
  • The Urbana City Council apparently isn’t chomping at the bit to consider a resolution advising the University of Illinois to retire Chief Illiniwek. (The News-Gazette, August 18, 2005)

Treated at some length in my Language Log piece of 28 March 2005, “Chomping at the Font”. The verb “champ” was specialized in the idiom “champ at the bit” ‘be restive’, while “chomp” continued to be used in its munching sense. Then the much more frequent and less specialized “chomp”, which still makes sense in the context, replaced “champ” more and more.

| 4 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/29 |

hale » hail

Chiefly in:   hailed into court, hailed before the court

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • “Albania was challenging Great Britain’s competence to hail it before the International Court of Justice” (Collier's Year Book, 1949)
  • “Foreign banks are frequently hailed into court in New York. Dagher et al. v. Saudi Refining 00, plus over $2 million in interest plus attorneys’ fees” (link)

The first example is from the MWDEU entry for “hail, hale”. The MWDEU editors express surprise that they had only two examples of “hail” for “hale”.

The verb “hale” ‘compel to go’ is rare and mostly confined to contexts involving courts or similar deliberative bodies. The verb “hail” ‘call’, on the other hand, is much more common, and it makes sense in the court context, so you’d expect reanalysis. I’m actually a bit surprised that “hail” seems not to have prevailed over “hale”: on 29 March 2005, raw Google web hits were ca. 7,260 for “haled into court” vs. 758 for “hailed into court”.

My thanks to Victor Steinbok, who reminded me of this case in e-mail on 29 March 2005.

| 2 comments | link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/29 |

rife » ripe

Chiefly in:   ripe with

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “Pivotal scenes between Tony Soprano and his lady “shrink” are ripe with moral ambiguities.” (from Fiske, unattributed)
  • Felder: Season ripe with opportunity, peril (, article title, October 10, 2005)
  • The first day of the semester was notably ripe with traffic accidents, as three crashes occurred near Maple and Alumni drives. (The Oracle, October 19, 2005)
  • Makeup this fall season is ripe with sophisticated shades and textures, says Chicago makeup artist Marcus Geeter. (ABC Chicago, October 17, 2005)
  • Granted, the modern world is ripe with digital alternatives for enquiring young minds unimpressed with the sight of Anthony Carluccio stuffing a chop and swilling rosé - but this overbearing triumph of the grill wouldn’t be quite so galling if the programmes that it’s made of weren’t quite so bad. (Michael Holden, The Guardian, Michael Holden's Screen burn July 3, 2006)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Robert Hartwell Fiske (The Dictionary of Disagreeable English)
  • commenter "J" (on this site)

The rare and specialized adjective “rife” is here replaced by the much more common “ripe”, which actually makes a lot of sense. Fiske (p. 271) rants: “Infuriatingly, some dictionaries–the worst of them–claim that ripe with also means full of.”

[2005/10/20, CW: some examples added; minor editing.]

| Comments Off link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/29 |