sum / summon

In a Facebook comment on my latest mishearing posting, Billy Green offered an example that is surely not a mishearing, but might be an eggcorn or a lexical confusion: sum up for summon up. Billy’s example:

Today, I finally summed up the courage to break up with my abusively controlling girlfriend. I don’t know what I was thinking, but instead of leaving as a free man, I left as an engaged one. (link)

Not in the ecdb, but it came up on the Eggcorn Forum in 2007. And the reverse subtitution, summon up for sum up, came up there in 2010. Commenters characterized the first as an eggcorn, but the semantic relationship is unclear.

What is clear is that sum up and summon up are both reasonably frequent V + Prt idioms and that they share the material sum. So lexical confusion is a plausible account of the phenomenon.

On summon up > sum up, from commenter kem on 8/28/07:

Heard in the wild on 3 Sep 2007—someone said to me “if I could only sum up the courage.” A search through the bottomless archive of hasty speech turns up hundreds of hits for this eggcorn. In the immortal words of Gershwin and Van Morrison, how long has this been going on?

On sum up > summon up, from David Tuggy on 5/12/10:

That pretty much summons up the things we’ve done so far.That about summons it up in one line. I enjoyed the character development and plot.

To summon it up we can say that civil disobedience is distinguished by a non-violent resistance to unfair laws

Recorded in both spoken and written forms.
This one makes sense to me: when one sums up one typically does so by giving a précis, which (if done well) evokes (“summons up”) the essence of what is being summarized. The independent existence of summon up means that many cases can be correctly interpreted either way, but I think you all will probably agree that in the cases cited above (and there are many more) “sum it up” would be the more expected form

That’s a valiant attempt to rationalize the substitution(s), but nevertheless the pair looks like a simple confusion of phonologically and semantically similar words, like flaunt/flout, militate/mitigate, flounder/founder, etc., which I’ve called FLOUNDERS on Language Log.


2 Responses to “sum / summon”

  1. Rick Sprague Says:

    I immediately found an eggcorn rationalization of summon up > sum up because the iconic use for me is summon up the courage. “Sum up the courage” suggests an introspective process of progressively exhorting oneself until sufficient resolve is accumulated to support the necessary act.

  2. Dinosaur Comics « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Some more recent candidates for flounder status: skew/skewer here, sum/summon here. […]

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