Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Thanks for your understanding.
Chris -- 2018-04-11
I’m vague on the distinction between eggcorns and other diction difficulties. Would this qualify? “Wile away” seems a formation that must occur naturally among persons who either cannot pronounce or cannot hear what we oldsters used to label /hw/.
The answer is complicated, but for those who can remember what it was like to wile away an evening browsing the exhilaratingly chaotic downtown Tower store, its coming transformation into a temple of cheap denim short-shorts, cargo pants and walls of novelty T-shirts makes some sort of sense in the arc of cultural evolution.
Eric Wilson, New York Times, “Is This the World’s Cheapest Dress?,” May 1, 2008
Welcome to the eggcorn website npetrikov
“Wile away” is an idiomatic expression meaning “to spend time pleasantly.” “While away” would be an incorrect understanding of that expression with enough imagery attached to it to be an eggcorn in itself. Is this what you were suggesting?
One really has to wonder if the eggcorn went the other direction historically.
Actually, according to my dictionary, both are correct as verbs, though “while” as a verb gives “to cause (time) to pass, esp. in some pleasant manner: to while away the hours” as the first verb definition. “Wile” gives as its second verb definition “to spend or pass (time), esp. in a leisurely or pleasurable fashion.” (The first verb definition of wile is more related to its noun definition: “to beguile, entice, or lure [usu. fol. by _away, from, into,_etc.].)
I’ve always read it as “while away.” I definitely would have seen “wile away” as a typo. The fact that the noun wile means “a trick, artifice, or stratagem meant to fool, trap, or entice” would imply to me that the verb wile would first mean “entice or lure” and that the more innocent meaning of passing time (“a while) came as a variant. I believe “while away” is probably the original.
To answer your other question, about what makes an eggcorn, see the section in this forum on Eggcornology.
Last edited by JonW719 (2008-05-01 16:20:39)
Feeling quite combobulated.
“While away the time” occurs in the seventeenth century. “Wile away the time” not before the nineteenth century. Under the verb “while” the OED says that “association with such phrases as beguile the day, the time (Shakes.), L. diem decipere, F. tromper le temps, has led to the substitution of WILE v. by some modern writers.”
A good eggcorn, and an old. (Did I get the Morrisly construction right, Pat?)
Last edited by kem (2009-07-04 00:10:59)
Hatching new language, one eggcorn at a time.
Yes, quite Morrisly – a fine example, and a proper.
In support of the OED’s claim about “beguile,” “wile” and “while,” I may have found the missing link. I ran across one instance of “bewhiling” in the poem “Unrest” from the collection Carmina silvulae (1890) by James Ambrose Story. The speaker tells a friend that the latter’s unrest of spirit can be attributed to a longing for “higher, nobler things” than the common run of humanity usually aspires to. If only the friend could abandon such desires, then
perchance without a care
Of higher things, thou might’st , thy time bewhiling
With petty things, not then these achings bear.
http://www.archive.org/stream/carminasi … 8/mode/2up
Story was apparently a contemporary of A. E. Housman, and to me the sentiment has a very “Housmanesque” feel. Compare the first stanza of “A Shropshire Lad 49”:
Think no more, lad; laugh, be jolly:
Why should men make haste to die?
Empty heads and tongues a-talking
Make the rough road easy walking,
And the feather pate of folly
Bears the falling sky.
Last edited by patschwieterman (2009-07-04 01:01:47)