Thursday, August 25, 2005

This kind of shit makes me nuts...

The Eggcorn Database

This is a page dedicated to documenting and theorizing about that kind of idiom-butchering where someone substitutes a similar-sounding word for another in an idiomatic phrase. The "about" page of the site explains the etymology of "eggcorn," but examples are:
  • "for all intensive purposes" (should be "for all intents and purposes")
  • "a shot across the bough" (should be "shot across the bow")
  • "land lover" (should be "landlubber")
The contributors to the site note that most "eggcorns" are the result of people substituting some more apparently sensible word, often because they aren't familiar with the archaic metaphor or usage underlying the phrase. (i.e. If you don't know that "shot across the bow" is based on a naval metaphor, "shot across the bough" makes just about as much sense.)

Of all of the errors (yes, errors!) people make in language use, this is the one that most makes me cringe. The Eggcorn Database is like a car crash for me. Why? Why does this kind of error, even more than "they're/their/there," make me so nuts? Several reasons:
  • They reveal a complete obliviousness to the connection between language and history.
  • They reveal a bizarre incuriousness about language.
  • They reveal a weird self-centeredness and presentism: everything must make sense to me RIGHT NOW!
  • They often rely on the supposition that language always makes logical sense, which just isn't true.
  • They often result in inexact or incorrect use of idioms.
But I think the main thing is: They reveal just how weird my own relationship to language is. I literally cannot imagine hearing an apparently absurd phrase and NOT having my first impulse be "Hmm. I wonder what the historical or cultural origin of that is." I think I actually looked up "shot across the bow" at some point. Sometimes it seems like half of the history I know, I either learned or remember via its connection to English idioms.

Gah. Gah.


At 12:33 PM, August 25, 2005, Anonymous mike said...

We call these "fauxnetics."

At 12:41 PM, August 25, 2005, Anonymous mike said...


1) Have you stopped someone who says "I could care less" recently? Good luck with that.

2) If your (you're? haha) blood pressure is raised by uninformed usages of language, you will soon be spurting blood on the ceiling, methinks.

3) As with biological evolution (er, we give equal time here to Intelligent Design, there, that's done), language evolution is driven by small mutations that cumulatively result in large changes. Such mutations can be labeled "errors." Consider that English verbs have all but lost their conjugations (except for the -s hanging on in 3rd pres. sing.), largely because error-prone people did not appreciate the logic or history of the conjugations they inherited from their proto-Germanic-speaking forebears.

3b) Some number of words in use today are the result of erroneous uses, but oh well -- we now use the "erroneous" form with nary a thought to its etymological impurity.

At 4:05 PM, August 26, 2005, Blogger arguchik said...

lol@mike. fauxnetics... and "i could care less" is one of my pet peeves. it makes no sense when you say it like that!

one of my favorite "aha!" language-history connections is associated with the phrase "room and board." we all know what it means...but why does "board" denote the meal plan? way back when (i refuse to say "back in the day..."), innkeepers laid boards onto sawhorses or barrels as makeshift tables on which to serve a meal. when you paid for "board," that got you a spot at the board.

this phrase has been bastardized, so that we say, "boarding house" or "i'm going to board my dog while i'm on vacation." (hmm...what would that mean...i'm going to serve my dog for dinner?)

At 4:18 PM, August 26, 2005, Blogger arguchik said...

ooh, another one of those eggcorns is "card shark," which should actually be "card sharp."

At 9:30 PM, August 26, 2005, Anonymous MmmmmmmmmmMMMm said...

Hmmm . . . . I was just about to jump up and down and have hysterics about the legitimacy of "I could care less," when I actually stopped and realized it was "I could'NT care less."

WHEN did that happen? That's actually kind of scary . . . . I know that at some point in my life I knew that it was "couldn't"-- and then I just forgot.

I have my own language peeves and a question:

I fucking HATE it when people say so and so happens "to where" such and such occurs.

For example, "This kind of racism occurs to where no one can see people for who they really are."

This is a close to verbatim quote from KPFA in the am.

I also hate the fact that network news anchors/reporters will tell the story of some awful thing that has happened, and use the present tense the *entire time*. It pisses me off because it's just a cheap way of creating suspense around the re-telling of some horrific murder, kidnapping, rape, etc. It's an obvious pandering to people's desire to be entertained by real-life horror.

Lastly: I don't understand the phrase "Believe you me." I don't like it.

At 5:20 PM, August 29, 2005, Blogger arguchik said...

wait, mmmmmmmmmmmm, what was your question? you said you were going to ask a question and i'm dying to know what it is so i can answer it.

At 5:19 PM, July 21, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think that, you've got another think coming. As opposed to more usually heard ''ve got another thing coming'.

There are so many more.

Can you be more 'pacific' when they want to say 'specific'.

Mind you, I'm no expert. When I was a kid I thought the phrase was 'Patience is avert you'.


At 12:26 AM, June 05, 2013, Blogger Sorrowdusk said...

Think is I took an etymology course.

Birds? They were once called Brids.

Someone says "Can I aks you somethin'?"

GUESS WHAT. The word "Ask" is a mistake originally derived a word pronounced "Ax".

It's called metathesis.

> The process has shaped many English words historically. Bird and horse came from Old English bryd and hros; wasp and hasp were also written wæps and hæps. Likewise, it explains why the 'r' moved after the vowel in third and thirteen, even though they originally had it before like three still does.

So yeah, THINGS. CHANGE. You pretend it will ever be set in stone. What was "correct" will become a mistake, and what was a mistake once will become standard.

At 12:27 AM, June 05, 2013, Blogger Sorrowdusk said...

*Thing is

My above post had a typo. Ah they influence people's interpretation of our language in 1000 years....


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