Fun with Words- Eggcorns

Fun with Words- Eggcorns

The English language has a vast number of words. Be it simple or complex, all words can be replaced by alternate words with a varying degree of change in their meaning. But how to harbor all these words in our mind. It does seem a little taxing. Right!

However strenuous it may sound, as an online English speaking course in India we are of the opinion that once we follow an easy pattern of working with words, it’s a walk in the park to memorize and use them. It’s wonderful how words can change the way a sentence sound. It makes a huge impact on your English speaking and writing skills.

We at Speechify, have been trying to improve vocabulary and speaking skills of our students in our online spoken English classes for last five years. Our online English tutors in India have largely figured out what works and what does not.

With daily conversations, social media, English newspapers and magazine articles, you can learn a lot of vocabulary words every day. However, it is extremely important to learn the right English vocabulary words.

Best online English-speaking courses in India as well as globally identify vocabulary as the toughest hurdle in language learning. Learning words without knowing their correct meanings, verb forms, pronunciations etc and the rampant use of technology has left us handicapped for me simply cannot comprehend what we’re saying, or why it’s being corrected.

And this brings to us our next blog on Fun with words- Eggcorns!

What is an eggcorn?

An eggcorn is a type of linguistic error that sounds alike and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase. These errors are distinct from mere misspellings or mispronunciations in that the changed form is an alternate interpretation of the original word.

They are formed when someone mixes and matches the letters in a word or the words in a phrase but the result still makes sense. Eggcorns result from simple reshaping of foreign words. For Example- paprika - pepperika and substitutions from similar domains such as marshal- martial, integrate- intergrade, the technological such as sound bite- sound byte, or the funny such as stark-raving mad - star-craving mad.

At times, it is not clear what the exact link is between the derived and the original forms, although it is usually obvious when we read.

Common eggcorns used in everyday conversations:

Mishearing words and phrases and then reinterpreting them is pretty common. Many eggcorns are used in everyday language. Here are a few examples of common eggcorns:

  • Intents and purposes/intensive purposes- One of the most common eggcorns. “for all intents and purposes” is a phrase meaning "essentially" or "in effect." However, there are many people who mistakenly pronounce and write “for all intensive purposes” as “for all intents and purposes.” These mistakes, where incorrect words and phrases are replaced but the meaning remains the same, are known as eggcorns.
  • Dog-eat-dog world/doggy-dog world- The phrase “dog-eat-dog world” refers to a world that is highly competitive with unavoidable ferocity. In a dog-eat-dog world, people will do whatever it takes to be successful, even if that means harming others. For Example: “The fashion industry is dog-eat-dog; one day you're on top and the next, everyone forgets you!” On the other hand, “Doggy-dog world,” the eggcorn alternative, suggests something far more pleasant.
  • Alzheimer’s disease/old-timer’s disease- You might have heard about this neurological condition which mainly affects older individuals, therefore it’s mistakenly sometimes pronounced as “old-timer’s disease.” Despite the similar pronunciation, it’s essential to get it right for both linguistic correctness and sensitivity.
  • Coleslaw/cold slaw- This side dish is served “cold” so you might think that’s the first syllable you’re hearing in its name. “Coleslaw” is a cold dish, but that’s incidental to its actual name. It is actually “Coleslaw”.
  • Damp squib/damp squid- The word “squib” has been out of fashion since the origin of this phrase. This leads many to think the expression is “damp squid.” But, my dear readers, the phrase is “damp squib” which means a situation or event which is much less impressive than expected.
  • On Tenderhooks/ on tenterhooks- The word “tenterhooks'' means you are edgy or anxious. A tenter was a wooden frame where woollen or linen cloths were hung to dry on nearby weaving mills in 17th century England. It is a common mistake made by people as tenterhooks is that the word’s origin has anything to do with tents.
  • Curb/ curve- The word ‘curb’ means to restraint on something. For Example- We need to curb and ‘NOT CURVE’ our diet to make ourselves fit. The word ‘curve’ is used in a different context altogether.
  • Social Leper/ Social Leopard- A social leper is someone who has been cast out by their peers and a person who is strongly disliked and avoided by other people because of something bad that he or she has done. A ‘social leopard’ is an incorrect phrase here.
  • Card Sharp/ card shark- Being a Card Sharp means a person who makes money by cheating at card games. Card shark is no term but has been used a lot of times instead of card sharp.
  • Jaw Dropping/ Jar Dropping- Well, jaw dropping means causing great surprise or astonishment. For Example- Wow! It was a jaw-dropping display of magic. Jar dropping basically means dropping the jars which is not the same. Isn’t it?
  • Lactose intolerant/ lack toast and tolerant- If you are “lactose intolerant” you will be unable to digest lactose or sugar. Lack toast and tolerant is no correct phrase.
  • Expatriate/ex-patriot-“Expatriates” are the people who leave their home countries, therefore some might think that makes them “ex-patriots.” However, the words have different definitions and meanings.
  • Scapegoat/escape goat- When you try to pin the blame on a person, you “scapegoat” them. The term “escape goat” if used is incorrect. For Example- When five employees plan a prank together and then blame it on one person for getting him fired, the person who was blamed is an example of a scapegoat.
  • Fetal position/feeble position- Even though a growing fetus may be quite feeble, the position refers to its name rather than that adjective. “Fetal position” is the positioning of the body of a prenatal fetus as it develops. The back is curved, the head is bowed, and the limbs are bent and drawn up to the torso in this position. It is used in the medical profession to minimize injury in the neck and chest. “Fetal” rather than “feeble” is the correct word in this turn of phrase.
  • Free rein/free reign- The original phrase “free rein” here means giving people more freedom, a reference to using a horse’s reins loosely while riding. The eggcorn accidentally points to a ruler or monarch.
  • Pass muster/pass mustard- If someone “passes muster,” they meet the criteria of a given situation, but to “pass mustard” is to hand over a condiment. For Example- The cleaning of the room didn’t pass muster with my mother.

An eggcorn is a reinterpretation of a misheard phrase. The name is pretty meta, because the word belongs to the category it describes. Some linguists on the blog ‘Language Log’ were discussing the case of a woman who described an acorn as an “egg corn” back in 2003.They noted that there was something wrong. After all, acorns are kind of shaped like eggs, and are actually smaller than eggs just like kernels of corn are.

Someone may hear the term “moot point” which means a fact that doesn’t matter because it is not relevant in the current situation. Other examples are “upmost” for “utmost,” “junk start” for “jumpstart,” or “ice tea” for “iced tea.” Most of these words and phrases can become eggcorns in muffled conversation.

Related Articles: Collocations | Nyms | Dictionary in Language learning | Common English words | Oldest English terms

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