Don’t tell me you don’t know what an eggcorn is? Actually I didn’t until I read an article about them in a newspaper just after Christmas.
Here’s the definition from Wikipedia: In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical (sometimes called oronyms). The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context, such as “old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease” An eggcorn can be described as an intra-lingual phono-semantic matching, a matching in which the intended word and substitute are from the same language. Quite!
An eggorn shouldn’t be mistaken for a malapropism which is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, utterance. (A personal bugbear is the person who talks about militating factors when they mean mitigating).
The term was coined by Geoffrey Pullum, a linguistics professor, after the case of a woman who used the term instead of saying acorn. After all, when you look at an acorn, it does look like a little egg in a cup.
Children often use eggcorns because they have misheard what their parents have said – ‘I’m as white as a sheep (sheet)’ ‘She was swearing like a midwife (fish).’ It’s not just cute; their eggcorn is often as good as, if not better, than the original.
There are plenty of examples of eggcorns on Wikipedia: Some of my favourites are:
- Curled up in a feeble position (foetal).
- Antidotal evidence (anecdotal)
- Butter an eyelid (bat)
- Can’t be asked (arsed)
- Furl one’s brow (furrow_
- Mating name (maiden)
- The invincible hand (invisible).
Eggcorns are a potential asset for a writer – why not try inserting a few in your next story? Go on, I dare you. But be warned, your editor might not be pleased – may even succumb to conjunctive heart failure. (Congestive).
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