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Eggcorns: Playful Words

by Linda Jenkinson |

eggcorn

You're heard of a play on words. Eggcorns are playful words that put distinction in your characters and humor in your writing.

If you are looking for a way to add a fresh and funny face to your writing, try an eggcorn. While the word looks like it is a cross between an Easter treat and a Halloween candy, the only thing eggcorns have in common with holidays is that they are fun-loving bits of language.

Eggcorns have most likely been around since the first time a person's tongue tripped over a word, but the word was first captured in 2003. On his blog, Language Log, professor Mark Liberman raised the case of a woman who mistakenly replaced the word 'acorn' with 'eggcorn'. He wondered what name would concisely describe the error. Liberman's colleague, professor Geoffrey Pullum, suggested that the word 'eggcorn' might be an apt characterization for the that slip of the tongue.(1)

One of the fun things about the English language is that it is constantly changing and as it changes, it isn't afraid to laugh at itself. Over the years, the eggcorn grew in popularity and was a frequent and fun guest in many essays and conversations about our ever-changing language.

The eggcorn is the latest addition to a family of words, such as witticisms, puns, and colloquialisms that can add distinction to a character and infuse your writing with subtle humor. In May of 2015, Merriam Webster added the word to its dictionary, defining it as "a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase."(2)

It is easy to confuse an eggcorn with an oronym, which is usually a phrase that sounds the same as another, but has an entirely different meaning, e.g. "Ice Cream" vs. "I scream".

Eggcorns generally begin with a slight nuance of mispronunciation. "For all intents and purposes" becomes "for all intensive purposes" and "spread like wildfire" becomes the gentler "spread like wild flowers". While the letter of the phrase or word changes, the spirit remains.

NPR.org (National Public Radio) has squirreled away 100 of these nuggets in a six page document that they say, "Pass mustard".(3) The document is, itself, a tasty bit of technology. Treat yourself to an eggcorn and have a look!

Resources:

  1. “Language Log: Egg Corns: Folk Etymology, Malapropism, Mondegreen,????” Accessed August 15, 2016. http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000018.html.
  2. “Eggcorn - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.” Accessed May 19, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggcorn.
  3. “‘Eggcorns’: The Gaffes That Spread Like Wildflowers : The Two-Way : NPR.” Accessed May 19, 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/05/30/410504851/eggcorns-the-gaffes-that-spread-like-wildflowers.

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