Brew-ha-ha

Two separate reports from roughly the same time, both with people using the spelling brew-ha-ha for brouhaha. From Jon Lighter to ADS-L on the 21st:

The CNN crawl quotes one of the indicted Michigan officials [in the Flint drinking water crisis] as describing the criminal charges against him as one more of “those brew ha has” that develop now and then.

And then the NYT (and other papers, of course) quoted sports commentator and former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling’s use of “brew ha ha” in discussions of the use of bathrooms by transgender people, first in Facebook and then on his personal blog.

Most of the media seem to have just quoted Schilling verbatim, as in this report on his personal blog postings by Daniel Victor in the NYT on the 21st:

“Let’s make one thing clear right upfront,” he wrote. “If you get offended by ANYTHING in this post, that’s your fault, all yours.” He added: “This latest brew ha ha is beyond hilarious. I didn’t post that ugly picture. I made a comment about the basic functionality of men’s and women’s restrooms, period.”

But (as Ben Zimmer noted on ADS-L), in the story linked to above, by Daniel Sandomir also on the 21st,  it quoted him and then slyly corrected him:

“This latest brew ha ha is beyond hilarious,” he wrote of the brouhaha.

Now, brouhaha is not a terribly frequent word, and it has a relatively unusual spelling (with OU rather than OO or just U for /u/ — as in troubador, froufrou, and other words mostly of French origin, or from Greek via French). From NOAD2:

a noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something: 24 members resigned over the brouhaha | all that election brouhaha. ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from French, probably imitative.

The point here is that you can easily know the word /brúhaha/, but not know, or recall, how to spell it. English has a distressing variety of ways to spell /u/ — OO, OU, U, UE, UI, EW — but in combination with preceding BR, only one of these makes an existing word: BREW. A rule of thumb: if there’s a spelling that uses an existing word (even if that doesn’t particularly make sense in the context), go for it.

That gives us an ear spelling BREW-HA-HA that’s what I’ve called a “demi-eggcorn”, with recognizable parts that nevertheless don’t compose semantically to something coherent.

However, people are always keen to find meaning in things, so demi-eggcorns tend to get promoted to full eggcorns by providing a story that weaves the familiar parts into a coherent whole: in this case, by imagining an event at which people are moved to laughter by drinking either beer or coffee.

Pretty much everything other than the conventional spelling BROUHAHA is possible:

a hyphenated spelling that accentuates the laughter element in the word: BROU-HA-HA (with a mystery element BROU), attested

a different ear spelling (again, with an initial mystery element): BROO-HA-HA, BRUE-HA-HA, and BRU-HA-HA are all attested

a demi-eggcorn BREW-HA-HA, which has familiar parts but mostly acts like an (inexplicable) idiom

a full eggcorn BREW-HA-HA (which, of course, some people will see and conclude that this is in fact the right spelling for the word)

In addition, BREW-HA-HA has (inevitably) been pressed into service as a playful name for coffee shops and craft beer festivals.

And then from “The Further Adventures of Nick Danger” by the Firesign Theatre:

(door opens): [the butler] CATHERWOOD: What’s all this brouhaha?

NICK [Danger, Private Eye]: Brouhaha? Ha ha ha…

CATHERWOOD: Ha ha ha ha ha….(door closes)

 

One Response to “Brew-ha-ha”

  1. Randy Alexander Says:

    One of the most frequent words in English has OU for /u/: you.

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