The Volokh Conspiracy is a legal blog (or blawg), but many of its posts are devoted to language. Last week blog co-author Eugene Volokh stirred things up when he published a post about "commonly misspelled phrases"--like "free reign" instead of "free rein" and "baited breath" instead of "bated breath." ("Bated" here is a truncation of "abated," meaning "shortened.")
Then he invited his readers to contribute their own examples, along with Google hits for correct and incorrect versions. And, oh lordy, they responded. And vented. And twisted their handkerchiefs in despair. The last time I checked, there were 195 comments. One commenter noted that these malapropisms aren't misspellings--"baited" and "reign" are spelled correctly--but rather eggcorns: substitutions of words based on the mis-hearing or misunderstanding of an idiom. ("Eggcorn" itself comes from a mis-hearing of "acorn.")
A few of the choicer submissions:
- "Exercise in fertility" for "exercise in futility" (probably an eggcorn)
- "Pre-Madonna" for "prima donna" (a true eggcorn, and well worth preserving IMO; it's also cited in Um...Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean, the new book by Michael Erard, which I've just started reading)
- "Wallah" for "voilà" (a misspelling, unless you mean this)
- "Penultimate" for "really, really super important" (a misunderstanding of what the pen- prefix means)
My favorite comment came from Stevethepatentguy (sorry, Volokh Conspiracy doesn't number its comments), who chided some of the more agitated commenters by punning, "Watch those ad homonym attacks."
While you're over at Volokh Conspiracy, check out this follow-up post and also this one, in which Volokh challenges the declaration that an ungainly neologism like mentee (the person a mentor, uh, ments) "is not a word." And then read what dictionary editor Erin McKean has to say over at Dictionary Evangelist.
(Hat tip to Mark Liberman, posting at Language Log.)