Eggcorns of the Week

Belatedly catching up with last week’s The Week, my attention was caught by a little filler on "eggcorns", via the Guardian. Following up on this snippet I discover that the word eggcorn was coined by the Language Log, a blog well known to me and some of you, to mean an incorrect yet particularly suggestive creation.

"Someone had written “egg corn” instead of “acorn”. It turned out that there was no established label for this type of non-standard reshaping. Erroneous as it may be, the substitution involved more than just ignorance: an acorn is more or less shaped like an egg; and it is a seed, just like grains of corn. So if you don’t know how acorn is spelled, egg corn actually makes sense."

Some subsequent debate on eggcorn terminology by the language log plaza team can be seen here. And here is a spinoff eggcorn database.

Some examples:  "when the chickens come home to roast"

"the hack-kneed platitude of national security".

"giving up the goat"

"Have you ever honed in on an important point or goal? Given free reign to your creativity or, alternatively, towed the line?"

If you want to look at many more examples, make your own suggestion or join an online discussion, go to Language Log’s forum, here (registration required). Or maybe you think it’s just mindless dribble.

14 thoughts on “Eggcorns of the Week

  1. Stuff like this fascinates me. I was just corrected at work for writing in a headline that someone running for office was a “shoe-in.” The slot informed met that it’s “shoo-in.” (Of course, as soon as I thought about it, I realized when you need a shoehorn to get your foot in it, it’s not “easy.” Whereas “shoo-in,” must refer to getting chickens in a coop and, I presume, it is easy.) Clearly, I’ve heard the phrase a million times but not read it, so “shoe-in” was what I wrote.

  2. How funny, Susan, because I thought it was “shoe in” (as in shoehorn) too. I would never have thought of chickens in this context. I wonder if the person who corrected you is in fact correct? Dave Lull, if you are there, do you know whether shoe-in or shoo-in is correct?

  3. Thanks for the swift reply, oh ever eagle-eyed Dave! And thanks for the answer — seems as if Susan’s correcter is correct==
    here’s a little excerpt from the link you’ve sent, Dave:
    “The correct form is shoo-in, usually with a hyphen. It has been known in that spelling and with the meaning of a certain winner from the 1930s. It came from horse racing, where a shoo-in was the winner of a rigged race.
    In turn that seems to have come from the verb shoo, meaning to drive a person or an animal in a given direction by making noises or gestures, which in turn comes from the noise people often make when they do it.”

  4. On the other hand, anyone who has ever tried to keep a cat from slipping out the door knows yet another meaning of “shoe-in.” Maybe that’s why I thought it was spelled that way!

  5. And in Amish country you can get shoo-fly pie…
    The one that always makes me laugh because I think it’s sweet and also apropos is hair-brained for hare-brained… I find “reign in” and “honed in on” very annoying, though, partly because I see them so often in students’ essays.

  6. I agree with you, Jenny. Another annoying phrase is “centered around.” You know, when I taught composition at Columbia as a grad student, a sweet kid on the football team wrote a paper titled “Steroids Cause Impudence.” In the days of Brian Bosworth, it was hard to say he was wrong!

  7. Ooh Maxine, have you also got large feet? Until I got old enough not to care, I had to sneak a pair from the men’s department and pretend I was buying someone male a gift. (Dates me, doesn’t it?)

  8. Yes, Lee, huge! Size 9 (43 in Europe). I came out on that one in my “five little known things about me” meme answer. Sharon J immediately trumped me by saying hers are size 10.
    I could never get shoes after the age of 13 or so, until trainers came in (dates me, too, no?) — and nowadays, I can get the odd pair of flat boots that will do for work, eg the unisex ones they sell in the Lands’ End catalogue. I had an operation on my feet last summer to break and re-set my metatarsels (how I wish I had known about blogging then, to while away the 6 weeks afterwards I could not walk!) and it has been a bit better since then as they are not as wide now. I am currently wearing a rather fetching (not) pair of men’s trainers that are coloured dark brown so they don’t actually look like trainers but are just as comfy. Coloured trainers are a serendiptious fashion as far as I’m concerned.
    Hmm- shoo fly pie. I wonder if that tastes like the “dead fly biscuits” we get in the UK? (actually biscuits with bits of raisin in them).

  9. I am extremely fond of what in my childhood were known as squashed-fly biscuits! (Currants, I think.) Can’t remember exactly what shoo-fly pie tastes like, but on the whole very sugary and too much pastry (I like pies to be mostly fruit): sort of molassesey…

  10. I am living in a retirement community where eggcorns are almost daily fair. One of my favorites came years ago when I was teaching English to 8th grade and received a student’s admonishment to “never take sex for granite.” Good advice, I’d say.

Comments are closed.