sow » soak

Chiefly in:   soak one's wild oats

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • Of course these are the people who will preach morality and virtue in their later years, once they are done soaking their wild oats. (forum at
  • Some people travel for noble reasons. Some people travel for the childish sake of proving they can accomplish long term goals. Some people travel to soak their wild oats extend their childish notions of fun. Some people simply go places and enjoy themselves as much as they can… despite what effects it may have. (link)

Rich Baldwin, in e-mail on 21 January 2005, supplies the following Google results:

“sow(ing) * wild oats”: ~15,200 ghits (5,760 ghits)

“sew(ing) * wild oats”: ~850 ghits (465 ghits)

“sow(ing) * wild oates”: ~50 ghits (77 ghits)

“soak(ing) * wild oats”: 3 ghits (2 ghits)

The middle two are probably just spelling errors.

…Is this the birth of a new eggcorn?


[I responded] hard to say. it does replace a pretty rare word with a much more common one, but i don’t see any real improvement in sense. maybe the rare > common change is sufficient, though.


[And he replied] I agree with you about the sense: I don’t think “soak” holds a better meaning than “sow”. Note that the word “sow” referred to in the phrase is no longer in everyday use. I would bet that everyone who uses “soak his wild oats” thinks only of “needle and thread” upon hearing “sow”. The original word is gone except in the phrase in question, while there is a commonly used homonym attracting attention elsewhere. Contrast, for example, what happened to “broadcast”; the word is still used, but changed to denote television signals, not seeds.

Therefore “sow his wild oats” sounds confusing, while “soak…” less so. We are left with an eggcorn that is not a more comfortable phrase, just a less uncomfortable one.

I brought this to your attention because the ghit number was so small. (Just checked again. Score is now 4 / 2. Go team!) I thought it interesting to see the documented start of an eggcorn.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/03/16 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by David Romano , 2005/04/06 at 4:15 am

    There’s a pretty common saying besides “sowing one’s wild oats” that uses sow: “reap what you|they|I|we sow”. I noticed that “sew” is thought to be a spelling error, but maybe it’s not a spelling error in the “reap what you sow” sense. I got 4690 ghits for “reap what you|they|I|we sew” (and 96900 ghits for “reap what you|they|I|we sow”), yet zero ghits for “reap what you|they|I|we soak”. I think the eggcorn “sew” (for the “reap what you sow” saying) makes sense to at least some people, enough for them to try to defend (1, 2) or just accept its usage. So I don’t think that it’s not too far of a jump to say that “sew” might not be a spelling error in the “sow one’s wild oats” case either.

    As a sidenote, there’s also another saying parodying “reap what you sow” that seems to be inuse: “rip what you sew”.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Mark Adams , 2005/06/30 at 8:58 am

    C’mon, folks, the word “sow” hasn’t fallen out of use at all. If you think it’s in disuse, then you’ve obviously never worked in a garden or on a farm. The word “sow” pertains to seeds, though, so our lack of seed-related activities reduces our usage of it. However, the misunderstood homonym “sew” (which makes no sense with respect to wild oats, but has found a mate in “rip” what you “sew”) makes this phrase a definite eggcorn.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Hazel Horseman , 2005/08/01 at 9:56 pm

    Take it from a long-time farm girl. It is “SOW” wild oats. My parents were “sowers” and my husband and I have been “sowers” for 50 plus years. So, sow sow sow.

  4. 4

    Commentary by dion mcinnis , 2006/08/17 at 10:40 pm

    My grandmother soaked her corns…..does that make her less adventurous than someone who soaks their oaks?

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