In linguistics, an eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker's dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original but plausible in the same context, such as "old-timers' disease" for "Alzheimer's disease". An eggcorn can be described as an intra-lingual phono-semantic matching, a matching in which the intended word and substitute are from the same language. Together with other types of same-sounding phrases, eggcorns are sometimes also referred to "oronyms".
The term eggcorn, as used to refer to this kind of substitution, was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a group blog for linguists. Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substitutes the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using eggcorn itself as a label.
Unlike a folk etymology, a change in the form of a word caused by widespread misunderstanding of the word's etymology, an eggcorn may be limited to one person rather than being used within a speech community.
An eggcorn differs from a malapropism, the latter being a substitution that creates a nonsensical phrase. Classical malapropisms generally derive their comic effect from the fault of the user, while eggcorns are substitutions that exhibit creativity or logic. Eggcorns often involve replacing an unfamiliar, archaic, or obscure word with a more common or modern word ("baited breath" for "bated breath").
A mondegreen is a misinterpretation of a word or phrase, usually in a song or poem. Like the word mondegreen (from a mishearing of "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen"), the word eggcorn comes an example of the phenomenon it names: someone substituting egg corn for acorn. Unlike mondegreens, though, speakers may use eggcorns widely, in contexts unrelated to the one in which the phrase was originally misunderstood.
The form of wordplay known as the pun differs in that, by definition, the speaker or writer intends the pun to have some humorous effect on the recipient, whereas one who speaks or writes an eggcorn is often unaware that the word is non-standard.
- ex-patriot instead of expatriate
- for all intensive purposes instead of for all intents and purposes
- on the spurt of the moment instead of on the spur of the moment
- preying mantis instead of praying mantis
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