Archive for the ‘Eggcorns’ Category


January 28, 2013

Early this month, some discussion on ADS-L about cow-tailing / cowtailing, set off by Jon Lighter’s quoting from the Wordnik entry on cow-tail, which has plenty of examples of references to cow’s tails and things resembling them, but also this quote from Talking Points Memo:

This Republican is convinced that Barack Obama represents the very best option for this country if for no other reason it is because he refuses to cow-tail to the antics of the DNC.

That’s cow-tail for kowtow, pretty clearly an eggcorn — a reanalysis of the expression that finds two familiar parts in it, though what kowtowing has to do with cow’s tails is entirely unclear.

Four things: some irrelevancies to get out of the way; more eggcornish examples of cowtail; earlier blog discussion of the variant cow-tow; and the developing semantics of kowtow.


Putting the man in manicure

January 13, 2013

Today’s Zits reanalyzes the word manicure:

Girls get their nails done at a salon, guys bite theirs.


Two cartoons

January 10, 2013

Two language-related cartoons came by on Facebook a little while ago. One I think I understand pretty clearly — it involves a demi-eggcorn — but the other baffles me, not because of what it says (involving the glottal stop), but because I don’t understand why the character who speaks is saying it.


Two Big Happies

December 6, 2012

A few weeks ago, from Benita Bendon Campbell, two cartoons from the strip One Big Happy (information on the strip here), with little kids coping with English. Ruthie plays with alphabetical ordering:

And Joe commits an eggcorn on unnamed source, using a topic he knows something about, namely dinosaurs:

Intentional reshaping

December 1, 2012

Your typical eggcorn arises when someone unintentionally reinterprets the composition of an opaque expression so that the expression makes more sense, either as a whole (as in eggcorn itself) or at least in part (in reshapings that are “demi-eggorns” for some, like b-line for bee-line); the new expression can then spread to other speakers. But such reshapings can also be done intentionally, deliberately, for any of a variety of purposes.

Here, for example, is a reshaping of tisane ‘herbal tea’ to teasan, by way of expressing a connection to (unmodified) tea while maintaining a distinction between the prototypical tea drunk as a beverage and herbal teas: from the Numi company in Oakland CA:

Are You Numi-fied?

HERBAL TEASAN: Herbal “teasan” is the term we use to describe plants that are steeped like tea, but are made from plants other than the camellia sinensis. Numi works directly with farmers to provide 100% organic herbs, fruits and flowers from around the world for our line of traditional teasans. Naturally caffeine free, these can be enjoyed at any time of day for a burst of flavor and reviving treat. (link)


gypsum weed etc.

October 17, 2012

A few days ago the ADS-Lers were discussing the initially puzzling expression gypsum weed for a plant mentioned in the Gene Autry faux-cowboy song “Back in the Saddle Again” (and elsewhere). Gypsum here was quickly established to be a folk etymology, a demi-eggorn in which in an unfamiliar part of an expression — here, the jimson of jimson weed — is replaced by something familiar, without necessarily making the whole expression more comprehensible (what does the plant have to do with the mineral gypsum?). As Charlie Doyle noted, DARE gives both gypsum weed and gypsyweed as folk-etymologizing variants of jimson weed.

But that’s just the beginning of the complexities. Along with jimson ~ gypsum, there’s lowly ~ lonely. And more.


Private meanings

September 23, 2012

In World Wide Words #802 yesterday, Michael Quinion, following up on his discussion of hoity-toity in the previous issue, passed on a piece of mail:

Lucie Singh wondered if hoity-toity was “at the heart of so many people thinking that hoi polloi means the upper crust (often perceived to be haughty etc) rather than the great unwashed? This misapprehension is rampant in the States.”

The meanings of ordinary (rather than technical) vocabulary are learned in context, not by explicit definition, so though there will be widespread agreement on these meanings, there will also be considerable variation, following from individual differences in linguistic experience and in the interpretation of this experience; there will be a range of “private meaning” differing in detail from the shared meaning of items.

In some cases, though, private meanings can diverge starkly from the meanings most people have. I talked about a few such cases in a 2009 Language Log posting, and this divergent understanding of hoi polloi looks like another case, but with complications.


Awareness of variation

September 22, 2012

Yesterday on ADS-L, Wilson Gray noted lease of life on The Doctors, “spoken by a forty-ish black man in the UCLA Medical Center”. It’s about the choice of preposition in the expression. Wilson said,

Noticed this for the time today. But, 10,300,000 hits. A movie entitled “Lease of Life” was released in 1954, the year that I graduated from high school. Who knew? I didn’t.

New, as far as I recalled, to me as well. Wilson and I expect on in the idiom. But our perceptions about this variation in P turn out to be skewed.


On the non-eggcorn beat

June 24, 2012

Wilson Gray reported on ADS-L this morning that in an earlier posting he had written:

… having come across it here in there …

and that no one commented on his in for and. Well, people are generally tolerant of errors they are inclined to see as inadvertent, as in this case.

As it turns out, here in there has been commented on in the Eggcorn Forum, where it was treated as not an eggcorn, but some other sort of error.


Cole slaw

June 14, 2012

A follow-up to the first “Zits language” posting, which had cold slaw for cole slaw (an eggcorn that is now in the ecdb). This will take us some ways into the world of brassicas.



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