Eggcorns on Jabberwocky, Babble’s Parenting Dictionary.

A few weeks ago, my friend Dan – whose son Koey, as longtime readers know, has inspired columns before – wrote me with a new Koeyism. According to Dan, the lad said, “I used to think it was ‘movie feeder’ because of all the popcorn, but now I know it’s a movie theater.”I immediately thought this sounded like an “eggcorn,” a kind of language mistake named after a misspelling of “acorn” that linguists have been collecting since 2003, mostly at Language Log and the Eggcorn Database. Here are a dozen eggcorns:

putting the cat before the horse

cease the opportunity

lack toast and tolerant

on the spurt of the moment

whoa is me

girdle one’s loins

stark raven mad

financial heartship

mute point

like a bowl in a china shop

without further adieu

chickens come home to roast

Eggcorns are a kinder, gentler type of mistake, showing more intelligence than dumbassitude. As linguist Geoffrey Pullum has said, “It would be so easy to dismiss eggcorns as signs of illiteracy and stupidity, but they are nothing of the sort. They are imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known.” Sure enough, all of the above errors make as much sense (or nearly) as the original expressions, and some eggcorns are so common – “straight-laced” and “free reign,” for example – that they are gradually becoming accepted variations.

But are kids really the eggcorn specialists I guessed they might be? Emphatically yes. I went fishing for leads on parenting message boards, hoping that my “movie feeder” example would gain some company, and I wasn’t disappointed with the results, which include:

– A girl who mistook the lines to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” for “You’re a Grand Old Flag, You’re a High-fivin’ Flag.”

– A three-year-old who does “boopy bops” instead of “belly flops.”

– A tyke claiming that her dad was “painting a butt” – instead of the less-artistic “pain in the butt.”

– A four-year-old who accused an annoying brother of “extracting” rather than distracting her.

– Kids who turned “yesterday,” “memory” and “gravity” into “lasterday,” “remembory” and “grabity.”

– An adult recalling that she thought her parents said, “Only god’s nose when your granddaddy will get back.”

University of Pennsylvania Linguist Mark Liberman writes, “Kids are eager to make sense of what they hear. On the whole, this is a strategy that works – it’s by cross-referencing bits of language from one context to another, and by making up stories about how it all ties together, that they manage the amazing feat of learning a language by observing its use… .” In reference to Koey’s “movie feeder,” Liberman said, Take a moment to appreciate your son or daughter’s linguistic inventions — even when they’re wrong. “Our most sophisticated computer speech recognition systems still make lots of mistakes in recognizing English words out of context. So hey, all it takes is one easy little slippage of similar sounds – [f] for [th] – and the unfamiliar word ‘theater’ turns into the familiar ‘feeder’. Which makes perfect sense, what with all that feeding going on.”

So take a moment to appreciate your son or daughter’s linguistic inventions – even when they’re wrong. Adult flubs can be harder to accept, since your demented coworker is likely less adorable than your swaddling child, but it’s best to take all eggcorns with a grain assault. That would be better for your mental health and digestive system.

Leave your favorite eggcorns in feedback!

Article Posted 9 years Ago

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