concordance ‘example, occurrence’

Back on December 5, Lynne Murphy reported in Facebook about an essay-marking game — drinking a shot of liquor or eating something whenever a particular expression occurred in a student essay:

‘concordance’ to mean ‘example found in a corpus’, as in ‘COCA has three concordances of this collocation’.

… I’ve read this so many times, that I actually looked it up to see if this terminology was polysemous in ways I had not yet appreciated.

(No evidence for it I could find in dictionaries.)

So an error, but what kind? Mishearing (of occurrences)? Classical malapropism (perhaps as a result of learning the technical term concordance)? Eggcorn? Examples like this can be remarkably hard to classify.

The malapropism possibility is intriguing, but it would be a complex sort of malapropism, with a heavy involvement of semantics. A corpus is a list of examples, in context, with information about their sources. A concordance is

An alphabetical arrangement of the principal words contained in a book, with citations of the passages in which they occur. (OED2)

Both are lists, linked to information about the sources of the items in the list. That’s the semantic connection. The phonological connection comes in the similarity of occurrence and concordance.

However the error originated, it’s likely to have spread within the little community of Lynne’s linguistics students by diffusion from one to another.



3 Responses to “concordance ‘example, occurrence’”

  1. Allison Wright Says:

    Did this error occur in one or several student essays?
    It is possible that it could have occurred in several.
    It happens when one person in a group (discussion) uses a word or expression (incorrectly) in context, and because of the linguistic phenomenon of “accommodation” (adopting the speech patterns or, in this case, the incorrectly used word, of the other person(s) in communication), combined possibly with not knowing the precise meaning of the incorrectly used word, the whole group starts using the word incorrectly. The spread of slang terms works in the same way.
    I experienced this phenomenon with a boss once who said “opposed to” every single time he meant “as opposed to”. Before I knew it, no fewer than six other people participating in the discussion had adopted the phrase! Group dynamics were such that I was not about to correct anyone at the time, even though I avoided the phrase myself..

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The implication of what Lynne wrote was that it occurred in a number.

      Your notion of accommodation is a more specific account of why diffusion happens in groups.

  2. Gary Says:

    Classicists talk about concordance interpolations, where a parallel passage was written in the margin of a text, as an aide memoire, and then assumed to be an omitted piece of the text by a copyist, who incorporated it into the text of his copy.

    Concordance in concordance interpolation doesn’t mean what the students think, but it’s closer to that than to “an alphabetical arrangement etc.”

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