cord » chord

Chiefly in:   vocal chords , spinal chord

Classification: English – questionable – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “The larynx is located in the throat and contains the vocal chords and glottis. … The air moves through the vocal chords, which are situated in the …” (link)
  • “remedy for spinal chord injury - health and fitness Victoria BC” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • commenter J. Francis (link)

Ann Burlingham observed on soc.motss on 6 May 2005 that “vocal chords” outnumbers “vocal cords” by a good bit on Google, even on a music dictionary site.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes, “The chord spelling can still be found in American sources in combination with spinal and more frequently with vocal, where the unrelated musical chord may affect people’s spelling.” It’s the association with musical chords that makes this possibly an eggcorn. But MWDEU notes that “the chord spelling with adjectives like vocal and spinal is historically justified and considered acceptable by a number of British authorities”. However, since “it is widely understood to be a misspelling in American usage”, they recommend the cord spelling.

[Update: 18 October 2007, Ben Zimmer] More about vocal c(h)ords on OUPblog here and here.

[Update: 7 November 2007, Arnold Zwicky] And now Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words (#542, 2 June 2007) reports starter chord: “This past weekend,” notes Michael Shannon, “I participated in a course for the use and care of chainsaws. Now, chainsaws are often accused of making awful noises, so I found it highly amusing that the printed material we were given constantly referred to pulling on ‘the starter chord’. Unfortunately, we weren’t told what key it was in.”

[Update: 6 June 2009, Arnold Zwicky] More from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words (#641, 30 May 2009): Jenny O’Brien tells us the St Cloud Times of Minnesota reported on Friday 22 May: “A fire started by an old electrical chord caused smoke damage late Thursday to a mobile home in southeast St Cloud.”

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/05/07 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Q. Pheevr , 2005/05/07 at 7:32 pm

    In the specific case of spinal chord, the influence of chordate could also be a factor favouring the ch- spelling.

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