From time to time, I’ll write a grammar post about a curious phenomenon called an eggcorn. But who came up with a word like ‘eggcorn’ and why?
Why is an eggcorn referred to by such an unusual name?
It’s a reasonable question, especially when you consider that most people have probably never heard the odd little term.
First things first, however.
What is an eggcorn?
The easiest way to explain it is to describe a word or phrase that is incorrect because of a mishearing or misinterpretation of the spoken word. The ears, after all, are probably our least efficient method of receiving information.
Examples include phrases like “tow the line” instead of “toe the line” or “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes” or single words like “coldslaw” instead of “coleslaw.”
Each, in its own way, can sound perfectly logical at the moment it is said or written, but under tougher scrutiny, we begin to see the eggcorn unravel.
The most recent example I posted here was the incorrect phrase “pass mustard” that some people erroneously use when they actually mean to say “pass muster.”
Where the name came from
The word came from a specific instance of an eggcorn. You see, an eggcorn actually is one.
In response to a post by Mark Liberman on the Language Log website about a woman who substituted the word “egg corn” for “acorn,” a linguistics professor named Geoffrey Pullum suggested this made-up word become the name for all such gaffes, according to Wikipedia.
So an example of the problem became the name of the problem. You have to love the irony of that.
I’m just not sure why anyone would actually call an acorn an “eggcorn” and think that’s correct. But maybe that’s just me.