Language

"Eggcorns" Are Language Mistakes That Somehow Still Make Sense

Not to get nitpicky and accusatory, but you've probably used a whole bunch of words incorrectly throughout your life. Are you a real trooper who's chomping at the bit? Ever made a statement for all intensive purposes? Had another thing coming? If you've used any of these phrases before, you're a full-fledged "eggcorner." No shame.

What's an Acorn, Anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster, an eggcorn is "a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase." An example is the classic phrase "all intents and purposes" and its common eggcorn, "all intensive purposes." Sure, it's not right, but is it really wrong?

This harmless language gaffe has been called a "slip of the ear": you hear it one way, and repeat it that way. Sometimes, the resulting eggcorn can be downright poetic: "hearbuds" instead of "earbuds," for example.

The origin of the eggcorn gets pretty meta, seeing as the word "eggcorn" is an eggcorn itself. In 2003, linguists on a blog called the Language Log were discussing the case of a woman who called acorns "eggcorns." The made-up term was incorrect, but still weirdly made logical sense: acorns are shaped a little like eggs, and are basically to trees what eggs are to chickens. And like kernels are a cob, acorns are small bits of a larger thing. Voila! Eggcorn! Why not? Had she called an acorn "rainstorm," it would've been labeled a mere malapropism. But "eggcorn" was delightfully different. British-American linguist Geoff Pullum then suggested that "if no suitable term already exists for cases like this, we should call them 'egg corns.'"

This List Passes Mustard

It's very likely that some of the words and phrases you already use are eggcorns. Here are some common made language errors that still eggcorn-ily make the grade (the eggcorn is listed and the original, correct form is in parentheses):

  1. Chomping at the bit (champing at the bit)
  2. Real trooper (real trouper)
  3. All intensive purposes (all intents and purposes)
  4. Another thing coming (another think coming)
  5. Bad wrap (bad rap)
  6. Beckon call (beck and call)
  7. Butt naked (buck naked)
  8. Day in age (day and age)
  9. Deep-seeded (deep-seated)
  10. Doggy-dog (dog-eat-dog)
  11. Neck in neck (neck and neck)
  12. Jig-solve puzzle (jigsaw puzzle)
  13. Hell in a handbag (hell in a handbasket)
  14. Nip it in the butt (nip it in the bud)
  15. Pass mustard (pass muster)
  16. Platemats (placemats)
  17. Real goal-getter (real go-getter)
  18. Takes two to tangle (takes two to tango)

Keep the mixups going! Check out "The Ants Are My Friends: Misheard Lyrics, Malapropisms, Eggcorns, and Other Linguistic Gaffes." If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto January 22, 2018