Eggcorns and Other Eggcorns
I posted recently about mondegreens — the mishearing or misunderstanding of song lyrics or poetry. Today I’d like to talk about a similar, and similarly entertaining, linguistic error. It’s called an eggcorn, a term coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Lieberman in 2003.
An eggcorn is similar to a mondegreen, but the mishearing or misunderstanding takes place in ordinary words or expressions, not in song lyrics.
The word, eggcorn, is itself an example of the concept. Lieberman wrote an article on the linguistic blog Language Log about a woman who, intending to write acorn, wrote egg corn. He found it amusing and realized there was no term for this kind of thing. It’s not a mondegreen because it wasn’t in the context of a song or poem. It isn’t a malapropism because egg corn is virtually a homonym for acorn. Pullum replied to the post, suggesting that eggcorn itself would make a fine term. It stuck so well that the word is now included in the Oxford English Dictionary.
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What are some common eggcorns? Here are a few I found in various places online. Some I talked about in the article Mis-expressed Expressions. Many of these, by the way, are the result of homophone confusion.
- old-timer’s disease (Alzheimer’s disease)
- for all intensive purposes (For all intents and purposes)
- malice of forethought (Malice aforethought)
- to speak one’s peace (to speak one’s piece)
- balled his eyes out (bawled his eyes out)
- a flamingo dress (flamenco dress)
- Is this exceptable? (Is this acceptable?)
- give your two sense worth (give your two cents’ worth)
- taught muscles (taut muscles)
- wreckless driving (reckless driving)
- peeked (or peaked) my curiosity (piqued my curiosity)
- trite and true (tried and true)
- ad homonym (ad hominem)
- lazy fair (laissez faire)
- cut to the cheese (cut to the chase)
- lame man’s terms (layman’s terms)
- other body (or outer body) experience (out-of-body experience)
- On the spurt of the moment (spur of the moment)
- bread and breakfast (bed and breakfast)
- internally grateful (eternally grateful)
- bonified (bona fide)
- slight of hand (sleight of hand)
- mute point (moot point)
Children often create adorably cute eggcorns. I was always reluctant to correct my children when they said things like:
- I want some waterlemon!
- Why is that girl wearing a big keenie?
- We’re out of toiler paper!
- Can I have another hop-dog?
Examples of eggcorns are everywhere. Many even make it to print. Have you seen or heard any you’d like to share? Please leave them in the comments below!
My wife worked with a girl who would put stuff in a vanilla (manila) envelope and then send it partial (parcel) post.
I have a friend who get fustrated instead of frustrated. Is that an eggcorn, regional dialect, or just ignorance? I can’t remember if I’ve ever called him on it. It perplexes me about as much as my dad pronouncing across as acrost.
I’d guess “fustrated” and “acrost” are just regionalisms, not eggcorns. Thanks for “vanilla envelope” and “partial post”!
My granddaughter uses “kelipopter” for “helicopter.” Spell check doesn’t care for it, but I will not be the one to correct her cuteness.
BTW I just found your blog, and as a 7th grade literacy teacher I LOVE it!!
Thanks, Stephanie. And thanks for sharing “kelipopter.” Hilarious and adorable.
A favorite eggcorn is “We prayed about you.” (We prayed without you).
This may not be a true eggcorn, but just today I saw someone use “valley” instead of “valet.” Took me a moment to figure out what he meant. 🙂