Headline: Uncitely miss speaking misteaks


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

I am a proud naturalized Hoosier. Although I was born and raised in Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!), I’ve lived in Indiana for more than a decade. If I’ve learned one thing during my time here, it’s this: Indiana loves corn. As a Midwesterner, I have an intense fondness for corn dogs, cornucopias, popcorn, cornbread, unicorns, cornerbacks and even candy corn. And although it pains me to say this, candy corn is not a vegetable. Don’t fool yourself, people.

What about eggcorns? 

I’m not talking about some kind of newfangled, lab-based, hypoallergenic superfood. An eggcorn is an unintentional word substitution we sometimes make in a phrase because we misunderstand or mishear the original phrase. The eggcorn got its name from linguistics professor Geoffrey Pullum in 2003, when he came across an article on Mark Liberman’s linguistics blog, “Language Log,” that discussed a woman who substituted the phrase “egg corn” for the word “acorn.” Pullum suggested that the linguistics community start referring to these phrases as “eggcorns.” The moniker stuck.

The difference between an eggcorn and a pun is that a pun is intentional; to the eggcorn utterer, the phrase may be an unintentionally clever way of relaying a misunderstood phrase. Here are some examples: “pass mustard” instead of “pass muster,” “escape goat” instead of “scapegoat,” “bond fire” instead of “bonfire,” “flush out” instead of “flesh out” and “mute point” instead of “moot point.” 

As you can see, these phrases actually make sense, although they’re technically incorrect. I had a co-worker (let’s call her Nadine) who unknowingly employed eggcorns all the time. Since I didn’t know what an eggcorn was, I used to refer to these phrases as “Nadinisms.” She would probably accuse me of being a “rebel rouser” for putting this in print. Just know I’ve changed her name here because, as Nadine used to say, “it takes two to tangle.” She really had a “sick sense” for eggcorns.

I hope I’ve “wet your appetite” to think of some more eggcorns. There certainly are a “wild variety” of them. Please note I’ve put all eggcorns in this article in “flotation marks” so that you know you’re not seeing an “optical delusion.” I just wanted to “nip that in the butt” so you didn’t “take it for granite” that the Grammar Guy would ever make such an egregious error; that would certainly be “disconcerning.”