Busted With An Eggcorn, Ctd

The eggcorns keep tumbling from the in-tray:

I’m surprised you haven’t published this one yet.  I used to work in a methadone clinic with folks who were quite low on the socioeconomic ladder.  On more than one occasion, someone would talk about how sad they were feeling about a family member or friend who was struggling with “ole’ timer’s disease” instead of Alzheimer’s.  I never had the heart to correct them and always found it a little charming.

Somewhat less charming:

My roommate believes that Nazis saluting the fuehrer proclaimed “Hi Hitler!”


Right after I read your post about eggcorns, I came across this in last Sunday’s NY Times magazine feature about Lena Dunham:

Passers-by routinely stopped to say hello and sputter out praise. “Thank you so much,” Dunham said again and again — to a middle-aged black woman; to a tanned and slender young blonde who, in a rather brilliant malapropism, said, “I’d be remorse if I didn’t stop and say how much I love your work” …

One of many more:

I know it’s probably too late, but I couldn’t keep my eggcorn in any longer.

Growing up I thought the phrase “ends meet” was actually “end’s meat”.  I assumed that the end of the meat was the cheapest cut, so I thought that the phrase referred to people who were in such dire straits that they couldn’t even afford “end’s meat.”


I once had a coworker who would frequently say we “need to get our ducks on the road.” No one ever corrected her. Too much enjoyment came from it.


I think this student may have misheard something in a lecture on Hobbes.  His essay contained the immortal “In the state of nature, people were nasty, British, and short.”


I’m really enjoying this thread of eggcorns. My contribution: Until I was 10 or so, I always thought it was a “bow-a-movement” instead of a “bowel movement”, since you usually bowed when on the pot.


My wife, despite numerous corrections (which are dangerous to my health), continues to refer to Silicon Valley as Silicone Valley. I’ve tried to point out that Silicone Valley is probably more Hollywood than San Francisco.


I work in research and used to transcribe some of the interviews I did. Sometimes some answers are a nice “segue to the next question,” but it took me years to finally realize that it has nothing to do with segway – which is how I spelled it, since I had always assumed the stupid two-wheel transportation thing is just a namesake.


When I was a young girl and very into dinosaurs, I thought that they had been wiped out by a “giant meat-eater,” never having heard of a meteor. I pictured a King Kong-sized T-Rex running around eating all of the other dinosaurs. The truth came out when I decided to do a school project on dinosaur extinction. My parents thought it was adorable.

One more:

Every year on Christmas Eve my mom would prepare a huge family dinner that included filet mignon.  As a kid this sounded like “flaming yon” which made perfect sense – I thought “yon” was a type of meat, and you had to cook it, hence the “flaming” part.

Follow the whole trail of eggcorns here.

Busted With An Eggcorn, Ctd

A classic Dish thread continues:

I used to think people were saying they need to “make a piss stop” when going to the restroom at work, instead of pitt stop. One day I earnestly asked a female colleague, “Are they saying ‘piss stop’ or is it ‘pitt stop’??” And so she spit out her water and broke out on laughter, and then, you know how a woman will look at you like you’ve totally lost your mind again. But I really didn’t know.

Another eggcorn:

From a student paper, several years back: “It’s a doggie-dog world.”


My wife had, for the past 20+ years, always said “connipshit” instead of “conniption.”  I finally made her repeat it to me after she said it two-three times in a day and verified she thought the word was “connipshit.”  But I can’t say I blame her; people in a conniption are usually in a connipshit as well.


I recently wrote an email to a client where I said that allowing something to happen would set a “very bad president.” (For the record, it was not a Freudian slip; I’m an Obama supporter.)

That’s actually a malapropism, which many readers are still confusing for an eggcorn (though often the distinction can be tricky). Here’s Wiki again:

The unintentionally incorrect use of similar-sounding words or phrases in speaking is a malapropism. If there is a connection in meaning, it can be called an eggcorn.


I had a friend in college that swore up and down that it was a “greatfruit”. But in his defense, they are nothing like a grape and they are pretty great.


My wife likes to tell how when she was younger and watched Star Wars, they said the Jedi used a “Life Saver” instead of a Light Saber. They were trying to save people, after all.

And here’s a “gem of an eggcorn from my father, a reporter at a local newspaper”:

One of our writers on Tuesday was reporting on a homicide near a brothel. Or as he inadvertently put it, “a house of proposition.” (It did not get into print.)

Another paper doesn’t seem as diligent:

Here’s another eggcorn from yesterday’s WaPo: “Now, North Korea has decided to take a different tact.”

Another reader:

When I was a precocious youth, I thought that “&” was called a “standsforand” rather than an “ampersand”.


I hear this one often “This doesn’t jive with what he was saying” rather than “jibe”.  I admit I prefer jive.

On a more colloquial note, when I was a child and asked for something that my mother thought I should get for myself, she would say “What are you?  Lady Cement?”.  Years later I realized she was saying “Laid in cement”.   I never thought to question her use of “what” instead of “who”.  Maybe I just liked being a “Lady”.


I grew up Catholic, when I was making my First Holy Communion and learning the prayers associated with the rosary.  I asked my mother why we would say “Hell, Mary full of grace.”  What can I say, I grew up in West Texas and “hell” sounded like “hail” to me.


I hear “butt naked” for “buck naked” all the time here in Utah.


I’m a marine biologist, and I was at a curriculum meeting last Friday where I said that we didn’t want students to be “floundering” in a poorly organized course.  My colleague, a fish biologist, got a little smile on his face. He told me that I shouldn’t malign the flounders like that.  I still didn’t get it until he and another colleague clarified that the word is “foundering”, like a ship founders (apparently, I haven’t read enough Horatio Hornblower…).  Well, I won’t embarrass myself or insult the Pleuronectiformes again!

Update from a reader:

Your writer who was corrected by his colleagues actually used the word “flounder” appropriately.  It’s definition (as a verb) is “to struggle clumsily or helplessly (e.g. “He floundered helplessly on the first day of his new job.”)” So his statement that “we didn’t want students to be ‘floundering’ in a poorly organized course” works just fine.


Until the day I die I’ll remember Archie Bunker from “All in the Family” saying “Groin Ecologist” when referring to Edith’s gynecologist.

Dish editor Chris chimes in:

I used to say “lacks-adaisical” instead of “lackadaisical” until my girlfriend corrected me one day. I guess I subconsciously made a connection between the similar meanings of “lax” and “lackadaisical”.

Several more eggcorns:

I’m sure at least one other reader has written to you about the affable British comedy duo Adam & Joe, who used to have a radio show on BBC 6 Music. They got a lot of mileage out of eggcorns from their listeners, ranging from funny but understandable: “the pot calling the kettle back” and “curled up in the feeble position” to the quite bizarre: “this room looks like a bombsy tit.”

Check out the above video for more. Another reader:

One of my favorite eggcorns (at least I think it is) was from my days at a large telecom company.  An account manager wrote in an e-mail that went to several folks, including directors:  “We expect our customers to pay us in the rears! [not ‘arrears’]”  Heh.  I knew our sales people were pains in the butt, but I had no idea they thought of our customers that way! (BTW: please withhold my name if you include this in your list)

Also, thanks for all you do and thanks for having this post.  The news is killing me these days and this added a touch of sanity to the week.

If you need another mental health break in the future, check out the Eggcorn Database. Update from a reader:

Don’t you think the most fitting eggcorn for today is “Will Scotland succeed?”

See you in the morning, succession or not.

Busted With An Eggcorn, Ctd

A flood of emails came in following my bleg for examples of eggcorns. The most commonly cited one:

An eggcorn I am guilty of is “for all intents and purposes”.  I guess I thought it was an extreme statement, therefore I was guilty of stating the phrase as for all INTENSIVE purposes.


A former employer always said “let’s nip this in the butt” instead of bud, and I always had to stifle a laugh picturing what it would accomplish.


My favorite example dates back to the early ’90s, when an abstract for a presentation at a computer conference talked about the need to “integrate desperate mail systems”. Why yes, I’ve seen quite a few of those.

That’s actually a malapropism, which many readers are confusing for an eggcorn. Wikipedia helps with the distinction:

The unintentionally incorrect use of similar-sounding words or phrases in speaking is a malapropism. If there is a connection in meaning, it can be called an eggcorn.

But we can’t pass up this malapropism:

My all-time favorite, culled from the annals of Freshman Literature classes everywhere, is Honoré de Ballsac.

Back to the eggcorns:

As a person who sends and receives thousands of so-called professional emails, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a point described as “mute” instead of “moot”.


For some reason my marketing colleagues are all about “flushing out” concepts these days, rather than fleshing them out. Granted, most of them would be better off flushed …


People routinely say “breech the subject” when (I’m 98% sure) they mean broach.

And another:

Not too embarrassing, but I long thought that in the Pledge of Allegiance, we were describing the attributes of the Almighty when we said, “one nation, under God, invisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

On that note:

One of my younger brothers when we were little thought the opening verse of the patriotic hymn America the Beautiful went like this: “O, Beautiful for spaceship guys … ”

Another reader:

When I was a kid, my father had an employee in his business who was somewhat developmentally challenged. He used tons of eggcorns, but my favorite was that he called varicose veins “very close veins” – a pretty good description.

One more for now:

Stevie Nicks’ song “Edge of Seventeen” is an eggcorn. Someone told Stevie they had been doing whatever it was they were doing since the age of seventeen. Stevie heard “edge of seventeen” and decided to use that as the title of one of her hit songs.

Many more to come …

Busted With An Eggcorn

Well this is embarrassing. I’ve been righteously hauled in front of the language observers for the following boo-boo:

But it could give the neocons a new leash on life, a way to invigorate their exhausted ideological engines. (Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish, July 9, 2007)

Of course, I should have written lease on life. But for some reason, the sound of the word in my head came out as “leash” on the screen. This is what is called an “eggcorn”, a term new to me but a lovely neologism. An “eggcorn” is essentially a malapropism that apes the sound of a word: so someone once wrote the term “eggcorn” to mean “acorn”. Among some other examples:

When all was set and done, the missed shot didn’t mean anything but the impact from the opposing crowd was felt throughout every inch of Crisler Arena. (The Michigan Daily, Feb. 11, 2010)

First it was the far right, which signaled out “Spongebob” for promoting a gay and global-warming agendas. (Daniel Frankel, Reuters/The Wrap, Sep. 11, 2011)

I found an eggcorn at brunch yesterday! My boyfriend asked me if I liked the holiday sauce on my poached eggs. I asked him to repeat himself so I could be sure of what I’d heard. Once I told him the actual name of the sauce, he said that he’d always wondered what holiday the sauce was originally from.

The United States is a country with a prosperous past, but also one straddled with an uncommonly uncertain future. (Philip Mooney, Daily Princetonian, Nov. 28, 2011)

My personal fave:

Without addressing these issues, NOW and others have nothing to offer the average Jane and in consequence, have allowed Sarah Palin and her elk to define women’s issues. (New York Times Opinionator blog comment, Dec 4, 2009)

It’s particularly common when you’re not used to using the word in writing, but only in speech. And we all have our blind spots. Jeannette Winterson:

I laboured long into adult life really believing that there was such a thing as a “damp squid”, which of course there is, and when things go wrong they do feel very like a damp squid to me, sort of squidgy and suckery and slippery and misshapen. Is a faulty firework really a better description of disappointment?

Are there any you have coined recently? Points for maximal embarrassment.

(Thumbnail image by Edd Prince)

French In Translation

Claire Lundberg reviews William Alexander’s new book about the language:

I spent a lot of Flirting With French arguing with Alexander—pleading with him to just sign up for a class, for God’s sake. It’s no surprise to me—nor, probably, to you—that he doesn’t achieve fluency, and makes his greatest strides during a two-week Provence immersion class in the book’s final chapters. Studying French stresses out Alexander so much that he blames the language for his persistent heart arrhythmia. It was hard for me to relate to this Woody Allen level of neurosis: palpitations because you can’t remember when to use vous and when to use tu?

But perhaps I’m being unfair. French is scary, in part because of our stereotype of French people as haughty and rude—as David Sedaris puts it, in American films, “when someone makes a spectacular ass of himself, it’s always in a French restaurant, never a Japanese or Italian one.”

France also has, as Alexander reminds us, the venerable Académie française, an appointed body that has been meeting since the 17th century, whose purpose is to define and decide what exactly is and is not correct French. Most languages don’t have this kind of official governing body, and are free to grow dialects and adopt new slang without much fuss. However, in France there are official statements declaring common Anglicisms like le weekend and le shopping forbidden. It’s intimidating enough to cause occasional bouts of la panique.

Meanwhile, Hadley Freeman takes on the entire Francophile-lit genre:

After French Women Don’t Get Fat, French Women Don’t Get Facelifts, French Children Don’t Throw Food, Like a French Woman and French Women Are Just Better Than You So Shut Up About the War Already Because They’re Thinner and Sexier and We All Know What’s Really Important So Nyahhh!, yet another crucial addition to this delightful genre arrives called How To Be Parisian Wherever You are.

I’m afraid I haven’t read the whole thing due to a severe allergy to books that are predicated on national stereotypes so tired they would make the producers of ’Allo ’Allo! balk, but I did read an extract (hard-working journalist, me), and I can tell you, this book looks pretty spectacular. It was written, we are told, by “four stunning and accomplished French women … [who are] talented bohemian iconoclasts”. Coo! Stunning andiconoclastic? That is so Frrrrench, n’est-ce pas? So let’s see how this “iconoclastic” book shatters some French stereotypes. Well, we are told that French women “take their scooter to buy a baguette”. Take their scooter to buy a baguette? I’m sorry, is this a book about how to be French or a GCSE Tricolore text book? What next, “Monsieur Dupont habite à la Rochelle et il aime aller a la piscine”?

Native Tongue Tied

Olga Khazan reflects on her struggle to recall her first language 25 years after emigrating:

I haven’t spoken Russian with any regularity since I was in my early teens, when, tired of middle-school ostracism, I decided to become as Americanized as possible. Many psychologists think that we forget languages, and other things, because of “disuse” – the memories that we don’t try to recall very frequently become more deeply buried over time. Which explains why, even though you once aced your French midterm, you can no longer remember how to declare that you would like to go parasailing with Jean-Claude this weekend.

Other studies have shown that forgetting a native language might be an adaptive strategy that helps us learn a second one. In a 2007 study, “native English speakers who had completed at least one year of college-level Spanish were asked to repeatedly name objects in Spanish. The more the students were asked to repeat the Spanish words, the more difficulty they had generating the corresponding English labels for the objects.” That is to say, the better I became at English, the more my brain suppressed the Russian inside me.

A Rebel By Any Other Name


Will Moore looks at the labels applied to insurgents over time:

I plugged the words “bandits,” “communists,” “guerrillas,” “insurgents,” “rebels,” and “terrorists” into Chronicle and produced the graph [above]. We see that the US Civil War produced an enormous use of the word “rebels,” and though the count today is a much smaller percentage of the total number of words published in the Times,[1] we see that “rebels” grew dramatically in prominence in 2011. “Communists” first appears around 1918, and then explodes after 1945. The impact of 9/11 upon the word “terrorists” is equally prominent.