When the hollandaise sauce becomes the holiday sauce,we have spotted an eggcorn.
An eggcorn is a spontaneous reshaping of a word or an expression into a different, but similar sounding, word or expression that also makes sense.
The word eggcornis itself an eggcorn. It comes from acorn,and it is a reinterpretation of what that word might be. We can see how it makes some sense: Acorns are shaped a little bit like eggs, and they give birth to trees. So they’re sort of like an egg; hence acornreinterpreted as eggcorn.
The term eggcornto refer to this phenomenon is credited to Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, and his fellow bloggers Geoff Pullum (University of Edinburgh) and Arnold Zwicky (Stanford University). They all contribute regularly to a wonderful language blog called Language Log.
There is an ever-growing eggcorn database online, and I wanted to share a few of my favorites.
If you hear someone talking about “all intensive purposes” instead of “all intents and purposes,” that’s an eggcorn. Again, we can see how the new expression makes some sense. If your purposes are serious, maybe they feel intensive — so you can reinterpret intents and purposesas intensive purposes.
Sometimes people say they are curling up in “feeble position,” rather than “fetal position.” This also makes sense because when you are in fetal position, you are weak and vulnerable; you are a little bit feeble.
You’ll sometimes hear people getting a “new leash on life” instead of a “new lease on life.”
I particularly like when people say they are going to “nip it in the butt” rather than “nip it in the bud.” Of course nipping it in the bud is to get “it” when it’s young — very early on. But we can see how speakers could make sense of nipping it in the butt, too, because you certainly would want to do that before it comes back and bites you in the same place.
Other eggcorns include: one in the sameinstead of one and the same;front in centerinstead of front and center;or cut off your nose despite your faceinstead of cut off your nose to spite your face.One that I learned about recently is easedropinstead of eavesdrop.The verb eavesdropstems from the idea that you may be listening in on someone’s conversation while or by standing under the eaves outside their window. But eavesdropping is fairly easy to do (sometimes you can barely help doing it when you’re, say, sitting in a coffee shop), so let’s just call it easedropping.
I hope that next time you easedrop or eavesdrop on some of the conversations happening all around you, you’ll now spot some new eggcorns. And when you do, you can go check the database to see if they’re already there.