, an eggcorn
is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. Characteristic of the eggcorn is that the new phrase makes sense on some level ("old-timer's disease" for "Alzheimer's disease
"). Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word ("baited breath" for "with bated breath
Creation and definition
The term "eggcorn" was coined by Geoffrey Pullum
in September 2003, in response to an article by Mark Liberman
on the website Language Log
, a blog
. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn
for the word acorn
, arguing that the precise phenomenon lacked a name; Pullum suggested using "eggcorn" itself.
While there are several similar classes of linguistic deviation which have been recognised for longer, Liberman argues that the original "egg corn" does not fit any of them:
- It is not a folk etymology: it is an error made by an individual, rather than an entire community over time.
- It is not a malapropism: egg corn and acorn are nearly homophonous in the dialect in question, while malapropisms feature only vaguely similar words.
- It is not a mondegreen: it is an error of misinterpretation from common speech rather than from a lyric or similar recitation, and also does not acquire an entirely new meaning.
A fairly extensive list of Eggcorn examples can be found at the Eggcorn Database
- Letters to the Editor in response to an Opinion piece on eggcorns.
- Liberman, Mark, and Geoffrey K. Pullum. Far from the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from Language Log. Wilsonville, OR: William, James & Co., 2006.