Word Watch: The Eggcorn
A funny little poem and symptom of human intelligence and creativity.
By Mark Peters published March 1, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Lend Me Your Ear
Do you do things "on the spurt of the moment"? When facing "financial heartship" are you likely to shout (or at least write) "Whoa is me"?
If so, you've contributed to an amusing category of linguistic flub recently dubbed the eggcorn (after a charming mutation of acorn). Mark Liberman, a University of Pennsylvania linguist, calls eggcorns "tiny little poems, a symptom of human intelligence and creativity." Money problems are certainly heartbreaking, making "financial heartship" an apt coinage. And what's more on the spur of the moment than a spurt?
An error isn't an eggcorn unless it shows creativity or logic. Far from being simple goofs, an eggcorn provides a glimpse into everyday thought processes. Eggcorns do not signify ignorance but rather the opposite, says Geoffrey Pullman, a professor of linguistics at the Univerisity of California-Santa Cruz. "Sometimes we use our intelligence and our enormous experience with our native language to guess at the meaning, spelling and etymology of what someone just said... only we're wrong," he notes.
Language buffs can peruse more than 500 eggcorns—and write in with their own—at Chris Waigl's Eggcorn Database (eggcorns.lascribe.net). Without further adieu, armchair linguists can wet their appetites with these poetic nougats—unless such errors drive you stark raven mad.
Eggcorns in the Wild
- girdle one's loins (gird one's loins)
- insectuous (incestuous)
- far-gone conclusion (foregone conclusion)
- flaw in the ointment (fly in the ointment)
- zero-sum gain (zero-sum game)
- works like a champ (works like a charm)
- take with a grain assault (take with a grain of salt)
- Southern brawl (Southern drawl)