Ellen Kaisse wrote me recently with a query about intentional eggcorn-like creations, particularly as names of companies or products: Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a Dupont business that develops and supplies “advanced plant genetics”. The name reproduces a common eggcorn (in the eggcorn database here), in which hybrid (OED2 etymology: “L. hybrida, more correctly hibrida (ibrida), offspring of a tame sow and wild boar”) is reanalyzed (with several alternative spellings) as a combination of high and bred. Ellen wondered if there was a name for such things.
Well, sort of. A while back, the ADS mailing list had some discussion of deliberate coinings that look like malapropisms. Your run-of-the-mill eggcorn is a species of (classical) malapropism, so it fits into the larger category of (as I called them on ADS-L) mock, or play, malaprops. I’ll replay some of this discussion in a bit. But first, some background comments.In a classical malapropism, someone has lexicalized an expression in a form that diverges from standard usage, though it resembles the standard phonologically; this is an “advertent” mistake, in that the person who produces it believes (mistakenly) that the expression works in the language. Mrs Malaprop’s “an allegory on the banks of the Nile”.
In the eggcorn subtype, the producer analyzes the expression in such a way that its parts new contribute meaning to the meaning of the whole in a way that these parts do not in the standard. High-bred (hi-bred etc.).
A “Fay-Cutler malapropism” is an inadvertent error, a type of slip of the tongue in which someone “pulls up” some expression other than the intended one.
But in addition to advertent mistakes and inadvertent errors, there are also creative productions that mess with the expressions of the standard language for some effect.
The compilers of the eggcorn database often have to sift through putative instances of some eggcorn, putting aside those that seem to us clearly to be deliberate plays on words, as when musicians are described as “strumming up support” (cf. other occurrences of drum up > strum up). People love to play with language.
The 2007 ADS-L discussion about mock/play malaprops started with a piece of e-mail from Tim McDaniel to me on the intelligence of penguins:
Sorry to cast nasturtiums on your totemic bird.
It turned our that nasturtiums for aspersions had made it into the OED (draft revision on June 2009):
humorous. to cast nasturtiums on (also at): = to cast aspersions upon at ASPERSION n. 6.
1916 W.L. GEORGE Strangers’ Wedding I. v. 112 All right, ‘Erb, I don’t want to cast any nasturtiums on you! 1933 D. L. SAYERS Murder must Advertise i. 22 He’s been a long time in the firm and doesn’t like any nasturtiums cast at it. 1998 Independent (Nexis) 27 Apr. (Features section) 8, I should hate to cast nasturtiums on the spotless reputations of the dancers.
[An incidental but important issue has to with which occurrences are in fact deliberately humorous, and which are just classical malapropisms. You can’t determine the classification merely from the form of an expression, but have to take into account the intentions of the speaker or writer (or in these intentions as represented by third parties, as in literary or comedic representations of classical malapropisms).
The ADS-L discussion then branched off into several types of mock/play malaprops:
(1) playful versions of “fancy” (but native words): cast nasturtiums/asparagus on;
(2) cross-linguistic travesties: au reservoir (au revoir), horse’s ovaries (hors d’oeuvres), mercy buckets (merci beaucoup);
(3) satirical nicknames: Lost Wages (Las Vegas), Mop and Pail (Globe and Mail), Needless Markups (Neiman Marcus).
Examples of types (2) and (3) are legion, to the point where I really don’t want to encourage people to list their favorites. There are just so many of them, and my point here is not to inventory all the cases (people have been assembling lists all over the place), but just to illustrate the phenomena. What I’m aiming at are (4) mock malaprops, especially eggcornish ones, in company and product names. I’m sure I’ve seen more examples, but I don’t have a file of them.
So this time I really am inviting readers to suggest examples of type (4). A bit of weekend fun.