Eggcorns on Jabberwocky, Babble’s Parenting Dictionary.Mark Peters
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
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!