A few days ago a Facebook poll appeared on “wheelbarrow” vs. “wheel barrel” (well, it’s spelled “barrell” in the poll). As it happens, “wheel barrel” was one of the earliest entries in the Eggcorn Database. 

When my vote was posted on my Facebook wall, commenters suggested jocular alternatives to “wheel barrel” — all of which (and others besides) turned out to be attested.

(Hat tip to Chris Waigl for the pointer to the poll. An earlier version of this posting appeared on the American Dialect Society mailing list.)

Doug Harris was first in:

I had intended to simply state, with tongue tucked firmly in cheek, that Wheelboro is a small town in southeastern West Virginia… then I googled ‘wheelboro’ and came up with numerous hits …

Here are two:

The pod couldn’t have much more of an interesting character, and the creator does a great job at letting Leonard just do his thing and speak his mind. I love the part where he’s shoveling the mud out of the wheelboro and talking to the camera at the same time. (link)

Our round bales get set on the ground. When they’re flat, I go out with a rake and wheelboro and rake up all the left over, yucky hay. (link)

Doug then thought of “wheelburrow”, and I got some relevant hits (mostly from Australian sites) for that, for example:

BRAND NEW WOODEN WHEEL BURROW..VERY STURDY … Brand new childs wheelburrow. (link)

Create an air of old world charm in your backyard or garden with this quaint Decorative Garden Wooden Wheel Burrow. (link)

Then John Lawler added: 

Don’t forget ‘wheelborrow’, which is all about asking Dad for the keys.

And, yes, there are some relevant hits for that too, among them:

MARATHON INDUSTRIES 5 Cubic Feet Pink Poly Wheelborrow (link)

How is a wheelborrow a compound machine? (link)

Oh, and a few for “wheel borough”:

It seems like every time I get to the pay off in a project there is always some more that can be done. I don’t like the idea of moving more dirt with the wheel borough but I do like working outside at some project that I can see progress while doing it. (link)

And “wheel burro”:

… and if your site is not accessible to the truck filling the wheel burro wheeling it to the forms, filling buckets and then filling the forms or shoveling right into the forms. (link)

Some of this would make sense if some people pronounced the second element of “wheelbarrow” with Ər (or syllabic r), so that “boro” and “burrow” and “borough” and “burro” would be ear spellings, using spellings for existing words with that pronunciation.  (“Burro”, referring to a beast of burden, would also make excellent eggcornish sense, but I don’t see any semantic motivation for the other three.)

But even people who have ær in the second element might come up with any of these spellings (or with “borrow”) if they’re not familiar with “barrow” and are casting around for an existing word with a similar pronunciation.  That would make these spellings “demi-eggcorns” (in which an element is reshaped to have some familiar element in it, just not an element that contributes to the meaning of the whole; that’s treating the whole expression as an idiom).

There are also pure ear spellings for “wheelbarrow” out there: “wheelbarro” and “wheelbaro”, in particular, as in

At a stand still that metal tire valve caps appear as bright LEDs, but once your car, bike or motorcycle, (even a wheel barro) gets moving the led turns into a wild ring of light that will sure to turn heads. (link)

“Wheel baro.” Amanda said. Everybody looked back at her, she was kneeling down with her hand hovering a one wheel track. (link)

(Most hits for “wheel baro” are for clippings of “wheel barometer”.)

One Response to “Wheelbarrows”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    If one needs a new term for these, I think I’d prefer a different one; instead of ‘demi-eggcorn’, these seem to me to be ‘fertilized eggcorns’, hatching new folk etymologies. Clearly a radial class — and a phonological one at that — in any event.

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