What’s An Eggcorn?

Even though my mantra is “Words Matter”, I’m constantly learning new things about language.

Last week I received an email which contained the phrase “for all intensive purposes”. Of course, the correct phrase is the similar-sounding “for all intents and purposes.” The mistake struck me as both amusing and intriguing, so I tweeted that it might be the inspiration for a future blog.

Jim Gardner commented that this confusion might be “the most common mondegreen in English after moot/mute”.

If you’re like me and don’t know what a mondegreen is, here’s the definition:

A misunderstood or misinterpreted word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of the lyrics of a song.

I’m constantly mishearing song lyrics. One of my favorites comes from the Bob Marley/Eric Clapton song “I Shot the Sheriff”. For years, I thought the refrain was:

I shot the Sheriff, but I didn’t shoot him dead you see.

The actual lyric is “I shot the Sheriff, but I didn’t shoot the deputy”. Sounds similar, doesn’t it?

However, the email wasn’t a song; so it doesn’t strictly fit the definition of mondegreen. Instead, these language confusions are called eggcorns, a term coined in 2003 by the linguists Geoffrey Pullum and Mark Lieberman. As discussed in the fantastic Language Log, the name came about when someone wrote eggcorn instead of acorn.

Here are 10 of my favorite eggcorns, with the correct phrase in parentheses:

  • old-timer’s disease (Alzheimer’s disease)
  • nip it in the butt (nip it in the bud)
  • to speak one’s peace (to speak one’s piece)
  • tow the line (toe the line)
  • wreckless driving (reckless driving)
  • peaked my curiosity (piqued my curiosity)
  • lazy fair (laissez faire)
  • bonified (bona fide)
  • give your two sense worth (give your two cents’ worth)
  • a tough road to hoe (tough row to hoe)

There are 600 more of these in the Eggcorn Database. Spend some time browsing the list and you’ll never have to ask “What’s an eggcorn?”

Use the comment section to let me know what your favorite eggcorns are.

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10 Responses to What’s An Eggcorn?

  1. Gaurav Jaiswal December 28, 2016 at 8:30 am #

    Another eggcorn I’ve often seen being incorrectly used is “flush it out” instead of “flesh it out” in the same context. Former almost has quite the opposite meaning

  2. Rajiv Nema December 28, 2016 at 8:32 am #

    Flush out the plan (Flesh out the plan)

  3. Kevin T December 28, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Hind Lick Maneuver (Heimlich Maneuver)

    Carnegie Sweater (Cardigan Sweater)

  4. Morello December 28, 2016 at 2:21 pm #

    Bowl in a china shop

  5. D Doahmer December 28, 2016 at 7:38 pm #

    Isn’t there already a word for that? Malapropism has the same definition

    • Jonathan Becher December 28, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

      According to Wikipedia, “Malapropisms differ from other kinds of speaking or writing mistakes, such as eggcorns or spoonerisms, and from the accidental or deliberate production of newly made-up words (neologisms).”

  6. Patrick pando December 29, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    My favourite eggcorn and one I regularly use is Diabolically Apposed (diametrically apposed). I use the aforementioned eggcorn when to individuals disagree to such a level that both arguments become nonsense.

  7. Eisaiah Engel December 29, 2016 at 6:18 am #

    I listened to an Audible book about business email in 2016. “Think before you send,” the teacher said. Now, I draft emails with the Hemingway App. The app highlights phrases like “for all intensive purposes.” It keeps my writing crisp.

  8. Emma Me and B Make Tea January 5, 2017 at 2:11 am #

    great post and I loved the link to the Mondegreen post – hilarious!

  9. Mark Smith (@marksmithvr) February 15, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    Love it!

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