Monday, September 24, 2007

Eggcorns! Get your eggcorns!

This blog, for all intensive purposes, is like a bunch of posts about language bound together with duck tape. But that's okay, because we can still home in on the parts of language that particularly interest us, as I am wanton to do, every once and a while. All tolled, I think it's a pretty cool blog.

Did anything in the first paragraph strike you? I hope so, because I intentionally used six (count 'em--six) eggcorns in that paragraph.

What is an eggcorn? From the Wikipedia article, an eggcorn is "an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect." That is, it's a type of language mistake that makes logical sense to the speaker. It is named for the mistake that some speakers make to call an acorn and eggcorn. In their world it makes sense, because (1) it sounds pretty much the same, (2) it's egg-shaped, and (3) there's a semantic connection with "corn" which is another type of seed. So it's an egg-shaped "corn" or seed. Eggcorns are considered distinct from other types of linguistic errors, including folk etymologies, malapropisms, and mondegreens.

The term was coined back in 2003 by linguists on the blog Language Log. Since then, Language Log has discussed scores of eggcorns. And a website to compile eggcorns was created a year or so later: The Eggcorn Database.

So did you spot all six of the eggcorns I used earlier? If not, here they are:
for all intensive purposes instead of for all intents and purposes
duck tape for duct tape (though is is a questionable eggcorn)
home in on instead of hone in on
wanton to do
instead of wont to do
once and a while instead of once in a while
all tolled
instead of all told

Have you thought of any eggcorns you might be using?


Torben B said...

This is a great post! I'm not sure I'm self-aware enough to catch mine. I'll pay attention over the next few days or so and get back to you ;)

rikker said...

The best way is probably to browse through the eggcorn database. I haven't found any I use yet. They are rarely noticeable in speech--it's the writing that gives them away. Like I know the correct phrase is "once in a while," but even when reading, I don't always notice when I come across "once and a while." And of course, in fast speech they're pronounced identically, "once 'n' a while."

rikker said...

Irony alert! I just barely noticed that I unintentionally switched "home in" and "hone in". I don't use this phrase enough, so I didn't catch it. The TRUE eggcorn is "hone in", and the correct phrase is "home in".

Oops. I'm kinda disappointed nobody called me on it, though. :)

Scott Abbott said...

I have a colleague who says and writes "rather or not". Does that qualify?
Never heard of eggcorns, but love the idea.