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March 29, 2006

Do You Use Eggcorns?

The English language is an evasive beast. To every meaning, there is an inventory of words. This is probably ever more apparent to those who have learned this dialect (or, as in my case, also the alphabet) as a second language.

I’m a natural editor; more than a piece of my professional role, it’s almost a sixth sense -- a disease, really. I have an immediate, gag-like reflex to any blatant butchering of the language. But I try to offset this involuntary reaction with the realization that not everyone (especially in the realm of business) can see the “dead people” (i.e., comma splices, missing or misplaced apostrophes, phonetically spelled words, etc.). If you’re an editorial freak like me, you know what I’m talking about.

But I digress. It seems like a new breed of literary butchering has surfaced. Known as eggcorns for the simple fact that a woman once mistakenly used the term in place of “acorns,” these words and phrases are the vernacular equivalent of the age-old song-lyric fumble (i.e., hearing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” chorus as “hold me closer, Tony Danza”).

But the interesting thing about these is that they are more than mere ignorant slights of the tongue. Eggcorns incorporate a seeming intuitive element; for instance, eggs are shaped like acorns, so the new name actually makes sense on a certain level.

Eggcorns are everywhere. This eggcorn database has tracked more than 529 examples. You might have heard (and/or used) some of these in and out of the office:

  • Intensive purposes (intents and purposes)

  • Zero-sum gain (zero-sum game)
  • Reductio and absurdum (reductio ad absurdum)
  • Buy one's time (bide one’s time)
  • Cadillac converter (catalytic converter)

I’d suggest we all try to steer clear of these, at least in our professional communications. You never know when you’ll come across someone who won’t take the error with a grain assault.

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Posted by Maya on March 29, 2006 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (1)


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» What's an eggcorn? You know, the thing that chipmunks eat? No? from Heather's "Marketing at Microsoft" Blog
So I am not the only one bothered by eggcorns."Should of" drives me nuts. Yeah, eggcorns are the... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 29, 2006 5:34:45 PM


My favorite was in an email for a remodeling recommendation: "He's not a pre-Madonna like most architects."

Posted by: Jeanie | Mar 31, 2006 12:32:54 PM

A not-so-bright friend of mine actually told me she needed to go the computer store to buy "a new ink cartilage." I said, "what?" just to make sure I didn't misunderstand. She said it again!

Posted by: Steve | Mar 31, 2006 1:56:06 PM

My all time favorite is "tooken", I have overheard the use of this verb several times by females as a word in a sentence, ie "she was tooken away"? I think you can only go as far as took and then you have to leave it alone, am I wrong? Then if took doesn't cut it depending on the sentence you have to move on to the verbs take, taken, taking, etc.

My mom calls our local Chevron gas station "the shabone" sounds Hebrew, huh? But she has a definite Asian accent in her speech which I think can be excused.

I don't believe tooken qualifies as a genuine eggcorn but perhaps close, it makes me laugh, which is pretty cool too. I'm sure I make word boo boos everyday, but its good to strive for a higher quality of speech purity.

Posted by: Linda Gutierrez | Apr 4, 2006 5:25:03 PM

In San Francisco, people are more apt to call these language forms "Mondegreens", which columnist Jon Carroll writes about often. The term "was coined by the writer Sylvia Wright". See Carroll's web site http://www.sfgate.com/columnists/carroll/mondegreens.shtml

Posted by: Tom | Apr 14, 2006 11:30:53 AM

I actually heard someone say this the other day;"You don't want them to think they discovered the golden goose egg". I almost laughed out loud, because it occured to me that this misuse of a popular phrase could actually work on two different levels at once.

Posted by: Eric Reppermund | Apr 16, 2006 8:14:56 PM

I used to sing along to the song with the lyrics, "It's my party, I'll cry if I want to..." But I thought it was, "It's my BODY, I'll cry if I want to..."

Posted by: Lori | Apr 23, 2006 11:45:09 PM

I love Eggcorns...

pier-to-pier instead of peer-to-peer
or tenderhooks instead of tenterhooks :)

Posted by: Sam Natursekt | Dec 29, 2006 9:47:52 PM

You guys are cunning linguists.

Posted by: Rich Childs | Jan 12, 2007 12:24:01 PM

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