knell » nail

Chiefly in:   death nail

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • Grasso said he thought Brexit would be the “death nail” for equities, but the market didn’t play out that way. (CNBC, Mar. 29, 2017)
  • Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan is a ‘death nail’ for baby boomers. (Fox Business, Aug. 16, 2017)
  • DACA is the death nail for anti Trump GOP. (The Kevin Fox Show, Sep. 6, 2017)
  • Had the DNC mobilized voter registration across college campuses, it would have been a death nail to Hillary securing the nomination. (Ronda Lee, Huffington Post, Sep. 14, 2017)
  • Similarly, I believe that the digital revolution and the computer is going to unleash more aspects of e-government, which will be the death nail to politicians. (, Sep. 18, 2017)
  • “I do not want any of you to view this as the death-nail for this idea,” Austin said. (Wichita State Sunflower, Oct. 25, 2017)

Analyzed or reported by:

Paul Brians observes that “‘death nail’ is a result of confusing two expressions with similar meanings,” i.e. death knell and (the last) nail in the coffin. Indeed, nail in the coffin appears to be a heavy influence on death nail, and in some cases the influence is so strong that we could call it an idiom blend. Consider the form “the (last/final) death nail in (someone’s) coffin”:

I would argue that the final death nail in RIM’s coffin was the aggressive pursuit of enterprise customers by Apple. (CIO, Aug. 28, 2017)

…or, more obliquely, “the death nail in (something)”:

And the Braves can thank him for not allowing Freeman’s injury to be the death nail in their season. (Macon Telegraph, June 20, 2017)

In such cases, the “pealing of the bell” sense of death knell has been lost entirely.

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2017/10/27 |

ad » at

Chiefly in:   at hominem , at infinitum , at nauseam

Classification: English – cross-language – /t/-flapping

Spotted in the wild:

  • You’re trying to compare to things that are not similar, and then when criticized for it you rely on at hominem retorts. (Hollywood Reporter comment, July 22, 2014)
  • How many times are you going to argue at hominem? (Malta Today comment, Sept. 4, 2016)
  • Rosemary Owens told the ABC that the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is starting to identify “unscrupulous employers” who use unpaid trials “at infinitum in relation to a whole range of people”. (HC Online, Oct. 2, 2015)
  • As can be seen in previous images, the square indicating the focus center when focusing a minimum distance is much closer to the center at infinitum in the 1.4 than it is in 2.0. (Digital Photography Review forum, July 5, 2016)
  • This incident (was) discussed at nauseam 20 years ago when it happened. (Doug Gottlieb Show, CBS Sports Radio, Feb. 22, 2016)
  • All throughout the preseason, we in the media talked at nauseam about the Dodgers lack of a true leadoff hitter. (SoCal Sports, NBC Los Angeles, Apr. 4, 2016)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • Leon Bambrick (Twitter, Sept. 30, 2016)

Compare ad » and, which results in and hominem, and infinitum, and and nauseam. The Latin preposition ad, meaning “to,” is a cognate of English at, both derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ad-.

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2016/10/01 |

teem » team

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • The place is teaming with evil gangs of rat-faced charvers! (ChavTowns, Oct. 26, 2004)
  • The capital city of Heian is now teaming with evil spirits. (TruePcGaming, May 7, 2013)
  • The plane is relatively light, but chloride in the ocean as well as the life teaming there have worked on it over the 70 years since it last saw sunlight. (, May 7, 2013)
  • Kabul market teams with activity as Ramadan nears. (AFP Video, Yahoo News, June 26, 2014)
  • I’m glad it’s okay with guests staying there…not teaming with evil spirits that want to chase people out. (Stephen King Revisited, Jan. 11, 2015)

Analyzed or reported by:

In the discussion forum, David Bird writes:

The connection to the obsolete cognate of teem as team, for a brood or family, skirts very closely the other, more familiar team, which is present as both noun and verb… So ultimately teem and team are tied to the same origins, though they have followed separate paths for a few thousand years. These connections enliven the following substitutions, that I think are interesting if not striking eggcorns.

Jorkel adds:

The nice thing about a homophone-based eggcorn like “teaming with evil” is that it is couched in the right idiom (or in-the-language expression) so that it has a natural feel to it … and the imagery that the utterer generated works in a credible way. I think sometimes as eggcorn hunters we are tempted to take our homophone list and invent reshapings first (then follow that up with a Google search of a phrase we created). It’s nice when the eggcorn jumps out and finds us because we have our ears tuned to them.

See also team » teem.

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2016/01/03 |

team » teem

Chiefly in:   teem up with

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • [T]here was the riveting VH1 documentary “The Night James Brown Saved Boston,” and a great tribute concert at London’s Barbican, when a couple of his old band-members teemed up with a bunch of stellar African musicians. (Nick Hornby, New York Times, Oct. 29, 2008)
  • Tonight he teems up with the equally legendary New Orleans neighbors Preservation Hall Jazz Band for what will surely be a fine evenign of music. (Brooklyn Vegan, Nov. 1, 2014)
  • Uber in Chicago has teemed up with the Snickers candy brand to deliver on-demand free Halloween costumes — and a specially-branded Snickers bar of course — to local Halloween partygoers who have procrastinated about getting their costumes. (Chicago Business Journal, Oct. 30, 2015)

Teem in the sense of ‘abound, swarm’ is etymologically related to team, which in Old English could mean ‘a brood of young animals.’ This eggcorn may seem particularly apt if the collaboration implied by “team up with” involves a large number of people (as in musicians on stage).

Complicating the picture is the use of teem up to mean roughly the same thing as teem, as in this dialectal example:

“In another hour this place’ll be teeming up with folks from all over the county and I don’t want no trouble.” — Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976) by Mildred D. Taylor

See also teem » team.

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2016/01/03 |

first of all » firstable

Variant(s):  secondable, thirdable

Classification: English – idiom-related

Spotted in the wild:

  • Firstable, the term “indian” and christianity were imposed in Peru through blood and fire by European conquerors. (Marxism mailing list, Jan. 28, 1996)
  • Here is an essay written as part of the admissions procedure for our University Honors Program… “Firstable, to stay away from the reality of those traps that people are facing, I would be felt some classes if I weren’t focus.” (HAPP mailing list, Oct. 26, 2000)
  • I have many ways to explorate but firstable, I would like to work on relations between the “recall” of roman empire and colonial theories / words / language. (H-West-Africa mailing list, Mar. 3, 2002)
  • Well firstable thanks so much to you and to Wuwei Liang because it is a very helpful tool. (VMD mailing list, Nov. 8, 2005)
  • Well, firstable, it was very boring. (Freshman Seminar @ Baruch College, Dec. 3, 2009)
  • Firstable you have to know that the room and bathroom were very dirty and unhealthy. (TripAdvisor, Jan. 8, 2013)
  • Firstable, you’re asked to pay your room in advance. (TripAdvisor, Oct. 3, 2013)

Analyzed or reported by:

This eggcorn may be more common among non-native speakers who lack a phonemic distinction between /b/ and /v/ in their L1. (See Wikipedia on the ban/van merger.)

In the Eggcorn Forum, alexkrich writes: “This seems to be a word that is still recognized as incorrect by most people, and is mainly used by non-native English speakers unfamiliar with the phrase ‘first of all.’ This is compounded by the dubious construction ’second of all,’ which suggests to the casual listener that ‘-able’ is an ordinal suffix.”

The Stranger’s Josh Feit writes: “There’s a slightly new meaning here. ‘Firstable,’ I think, could be a noun that means the item that comes after the expression ‘First of all.’ Example: The case against Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was compelling and lengthy. The fact that Iraq had no connection to al Qaeada is firstable.”

BuzzFeed’s Ryan Broderick observes that “’secondable’ is also becoming a thing” on Twitter, but “luckily, ‘thirdable’ hasn’t caught on just yet” (though it is attested).

On, Alison Lynch notes that “we even have a Twitter account @1stofall_ that corrects people when they use ‘firstable’ by mistake.”

| Comments Off link | entered by Ben Zimmer, 2014/11/12 |