There's been a flurry of activity today at Language Log Plaza over the hot topic of eggcorns--amusing renderings of mis-heard English words, as in "eggcorn" for "acorn."
Linguist Geoffrey C. Pullum coined the term back in 2003, but the concept is considerably older. In 1954, writer Sylvia Wright called these mis-hearings Mondegreens, after the garbled lyric from an old English folk song: "The have slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen" (instead of "laid him on the green"). Beginning in the mid-1980s, columnist Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle frequently Maid Mary--whoops, made merry--with lists of Mondegreens that skewed heavily toward song lyrics ("Hold me closer, Tony Danza"; "Gladly, the cross-eyed bear"; "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy").
But I digress.
The eggcorn of the day (Wednesday, August 9) is dong, as in "It donged on me that..." As contributor Mark Liberman notes, "'Dawned on me' is a stale, flavorless metaphor. ...But 'donged on me' is fresh and vivid. The only trouble is that if you write or say it, people will laugh at you. So there's your choice: you can be boring or you can seem ignorant."
From Language Log, link over to today's Chronicle of Higher Education, where literature instructor Mark Peters has contributed a fine article about students' eggcorns, to which he used to respond with the usual academic crankiness ("Your proofreading is horrible"). Now, he says, he simply points out that the erroneous usage has a history and an official name. Of course, he adds, "no matter how amusing eggcorns may be, they are still mistakes. Students shouldn't be encouraged to create eggcorns, but the glee with which professional and amateur linguists hunt for eggcorns provides a powerful model that teachers can emulate and encourage."
I come across eggcorns all the time in corporate-speak--and, worse, in corporate writing: "Tow the line" instead of "toe the line"; "hone in on" instead of "home in on"; "final throws" instead of "final throes"; "free reign" instead of "free rein." (I Googled "free reign" + "George W. Bush" and got 5,120 hits; the first one is a February 2006 White House transcript of a presidential news briefing. L'etat, c'est lui.) From now on, I will strive to view these scramblings as evidence of individual creativity and the near-infinite flexibility of the English language rather than as further proof, if proof were needed, that the bozos and Neanderthals have taken over.
To check out some common eggcorns--and contribute your own--visit the Eggcorn Database, the delightful brainchild of Chris Waigl.