Monday, August 24, 2015

A Rash of Eggcorns

In the past few weeks, I have encountered a rash of eggcorns.  Don’t get excited; they’re not contagious. They are, however, a nuisance, an abomination, or a source of great amusement, depending on your point of view. Eggcorn is the term that describes a misuse of a well-known phrase or idiom, as a result of misunderstanding or mishearing the speaker.

The ones I have recently come across both online and in printed material are:

            Make due without

             I shutter to think

           New leash on life

           Right of passage

           Tow the line

           Pet peas

           Brass tax

           Take a new tact

I presume you know what the correct phrases should be—unless of, course, you have fallen victim to eggcornitis, as well!

The term eggcorn was coined by a linguist at the University of Edinburgh,Geoffrey Pullum, in September of 2003, in response to an article by Mark Liberman, a fellow linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, on the website Language Log. Liberman related the case of a woman who substituted the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he lamented that there was no name for this kind of solecism. Pullum suggested using "eggcorn" itself as a label.

The phenomenon is very similar to other kinds of wordplay, including the pun, which is an intentional restatement of a sound for humorous effect; the malapropism, which usually involves the pretentiously mistaken use of one long word for another similar sounding one; and the mondegreen, which is a mishearing of a song lyric.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is an old hand at eggcorns; much of his life has been based upon misunderstandings.

            For all intensive purposes,
            I’m just biting my time,
            Till the day that I pass mustard
            And learn to step on a dime.

            When I was just a whimper-snapper,
            My clothes were handy-down.
            But now I am of lethal age,
            And happy as a clown.            

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