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Spade cats and gas turbans

When my son mentioned eggcorns and I didn’t know what he was talking about, I had to go find the website. I couldn’t let him be the sole possessor of such knowledge, not when I’m the parent and the former editor.

An eggcorn, it turns out, is a word or phrase misheard and then perpetuated, sometimes becoming more common than the correct word. Eggcorn is an example; it came about when people misheard the word acorn as “egg corn” or “eggcorn.”

As Geoff Pullum has pointed out, eggcorns are tiny little poems, a symptom of human intelligence and creativity:

It would be so easy to dismiss eggcorns as signs of illiteracy and stupidity, but they are nothing of the sort. They are imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known. One could say that people should look things up in dictionaries, but what should they look up? If you look up eggcorn you’ll find it isn’t there. Now what? And you can’t look up everything; sometimes you think you know what you just heard and you don’t need to look it up.

The Eggcorn Database is small, only 630 entries right now, but I’m sure additions are always welcome. My point is that it behooves all of us to scan the list and make sure our own vocabularies are eggcorn-free.

Some examples of eggcorns:

“black and red fish” = blackened redfish

“Cadillac converter” = catalytic converter

“coal-hearted” = cold-hearted

“corn stock” = cornstalk

“lip sing” = lip sync

“Morning Becomes Electra” = Mourning Becomes Electra

“motherload” = mother lode

“planter wart” = plantar wart

“reknowned” = renowned

I occasionally mess up that last one myself. My excuse is that I do it under pressure while playing Warhammer Online, where one earns renown. If I refer to it in the heat of the game, that sneaky little “k” sometimes slips in. Bad fingers, bad!

Now that I've had my say ...

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