Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category

In brief: phonological words

November 19, 2015

Heard — or, rather, misheard —  in a tv commercial for Oral-B electric toothbrushes (which can be viewed here):

(1) I’m never going back to Emanuel Brush.

when what the actor was saying was:

(2) I’m never going back to a manual brush.

Now, since I have [ǝ] (rather than [ɪ]) in the first syllable of the name Emanuel and the indefinite article a [ǝ] usually forms a phonological word with the word that follows it, (1) and (2) are in fact normally homophonous for me.

Yes, I don’t know anyone named Emanuel Brush, so I don’t know how the name came to me, in a toothbrush ad, no less.

Bullshido, bullshtein, and cork soakers

November 4, 2015

(All sorts of taboo language and sexual references.)

So I posted a brief notice of Mark Peters’s recently published bullshit lexicon, noting in passing the euphemism bullshine, which wasn’t among the many listed in the book. That has led me to a play on bullshit, the portmanteau Bullshido; through Michael Covarrubias, to the swearword malapropism bullshtein in the movie Johnny Dangerously; and through the malapropistic slur cork-soaker in that movie, to a hilarious SNL sketch “Cork Soakers”, where the expression is a comic double entendre. What a long strange trip.


peanut(s), penis, and Cracker Jack

October 30, 2015

In a posting three days ago on matters having to do with a Pop-Tart commercial on tv, I reported that at first I heard the peanut in peanut butter as penis. Now a Facebook poster adds his own experience, which had to do with the Cracker Jack slogan (for many years), “Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize”, which as a kid he heard as hawking “penis and a prize”; he took that as an early indicator that he was gay. And now I discover that there’s a rich vein of joking (much of it sophomoric) exploiting the phonetic similarity of peanuts and penis (penis brittle and, yes, penis butter), plus considerable anxiety over the word peanuts from speakers of languages that disfavor consonant clusters (like /ts/).

Two topics here: the phonetic similarity of peanut(s) and penis; and some reflections on Cracker Jack, both the snack and its name.


Pop-Tart blasphemy

October 27, 2015

This Pop-Tart commercial for their new Peanut Butter & Jelly line went past me this morning:

Well, I heard the peanut of peanut butter as penis, but that’s no surprise for someone of my inclinations. I noted it, to add to my file of mishearings, but decided not to post about it; I don’t post about each instance separately. But then along came the One Million Moms and their campaign to try to force Kellogg’s to withdraw the ad, or at least edit one line they found offensive because of its “foul language”. From their 10/15 posting, “Contact Kellogg’s Concerning ‘Jam It’ Ad”:

“No! Ah, Jam It!” The advertisement could have ended with “No!” but Kellogg’s chose to include a phrase that sounded just like a curse word.

It took me a while to see that they were talking about the blasphemous profanity Damn it! / Dammit!, which for me is the mildest sort of strong language. But they’re really serious Christians, who feel that children need protection from blasphemy, or allusions to blasphemy, in the media (in expressions with words like Christ, God, damn, and hell in them — OMG!).


Continuation errors

September 3, 2015

Working on my “Flintstone days” posting this morning, I kept getting hung up on the name Barbapapa (the name of a fictional creature in a children’s book series): I’d start it and then get waylaid into typing Barbarpapa, due to the pull of the names Barbara and Babar. Again and again.

in a Language Log posting of 5/22/08, Mark Liberman posted on such “continuation errors” (to be distinguished from completion errors that result from software doing automatic completion). In continuation errors the impulse to continue with some familiar word comes not from software but from our minds/brains; we often say that the word is “in our fingers”.

Linguists are likely to start typing linguists but go on instead to linguistcs. On Facebook today, Mike Speriosu (a Stanford graduate) reported that for years he had a hard time typing “stands for” without typing “stanford” first. And so on.

Popsicles for dinner

August 3, 2015

Strips from the One Big Happy cartoon often appear on this blog featuring the 6-year-old Ruthie wrestling with vocabulary she’s not familiar with — doing her best to accommodate what people say to what she knows. No doubt many, or even most, of these vignettes are drawn from real life. Now, from linguist John Beavers yesterday, this tale about his 2 1/2-year-old daughter Morrissey:

We had a bunch of Chinese leftovers, so I told Morrissey that she was going to eat potstickers for dinner. She was very excited. The excitement dissipated quickly when the plate landed in front of her and she discovered she was not in fact going to have Popsicles for dinner.

Popsicles familiar territory, potstickers not so much.

Some commenters applauded the idea of Popsicles for dinner, and I recommended potstickers for breakfast.

Dave Blazek

July 26, 2015

Another cartoonist new to this blog (like Ken Krimstein, recently posted on). The Loose Change cartoon by Blazek below (from 2010) came to me from the Grammarly Facebook page via a friend:


Pin the Apostrophe on the Word.

There’s a rich vein of cartoons mocking English teachers for their purported inclination to focus on minutiae.



July 24, 2015

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie again copes with vocabulary she’s unfamiliar with but nevertheless struggles to accommodate — in this case, allayed ‘diminished or put to rest’ (said of fear, suspicion, or worry):

Well, it sounds like it had laid in it.

Briefly: Word retrieval errors based on semantics

July 19, 2015

A particularly nice error I committed in writing up “Late summer porn sales” (here):

now that Independence Day and gay pride days are past and Memorial Day is about six weeks in the future

Memorial Day instead of Labor Day.

This is, first of all, a semantics-based word retrieval error, rather than a phonologically-based one; Labor and Memorial are not at all phonologically similar, but they are semantically similar — both names of US holidays. Even better, they are semantically opposed: in a convention of US culture, Memorial Day is the beginning of the summer season, Labor Day the end of it.


out way

July 14, 2015

On ADS-L on the 8th, Geoff Nunberg reported this reanalysis of outweigh, from a comment on an article at

Emotion and logic are not of equal value. Does not science and the collective efforts of humanity qualify as a higher form of discourse? The needs of the many out way the feelings of a few.

It turned out that Google gives over 400 actual hits for “out way the”, the vast majority of them involving reanalyses of outweigh. It’s hard to see this as a garden-variety eggcorn (how could it be an improvement in semantics?), so the ADS-Lers considered other possibilities; in particular, from Dan Goncharoff:

Do we have any idea how many eggcorns [well, reanalyses — AMZ] today are generated by speech-to-text programs? I imagine lots of educated users who can’t be bothered to fix errors on their phones or tablets.

An intriguing idea. Surely this must happen, even if out way turns out not to be an example.

In any case, more technology-caused errors, first cousins to cupertinos.



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