Eggcorn Definition

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An eggcorn is an informal term for a word or phrase that's used by mistake, usually because it is a homophone or sounds similar to the original word or phrase.

Eggcorns may involve replacing an unfamiliar word with a more common word. Familiar examples include "cut to the cheese" (in place of "cut to the chase") and "all intensive purposes" (in place of "all intents and purposes").

The term eggcorn, derived from a misspelling of acorn, was coined by linguist Geoffrey K. Pullum.

Examples and Observations

Katy Steinmetz: When corpulent becomes porkulent, that’s an eggcorn. When another think coming becomes another thing coming, that’s an eggcorn. And while fusty rule-followers often treat these as mere idiotic slip-ups, more embracing linguists view them as delightful 'reinterpretations' of English.

Ben Wilson, Jr.: In the text was the phrase 'With Utmost Courage,' etc. When we checked the original script and the engraving, it had come out 'With Upmost Courage.' When this was discovered, I was almost treated to one of General Stack’s thorough reaming outs and those who knew him will recall that he was most capable in this aspect. Fortunately, the G-1, Bob Travis came to my rescue with a dictionary and it was agreed that the UTMOST and UPMOST meant about the same under the circumstances, and it also was too late to make a change in the inscribed text.

Geoffrey K. Pullum: It would be so easy to dismiss eggcorns as signs of illiteracy and stupidity, but they are nothing of the sort. They are imaginative attempts at relating something heard to lexical material already known.

Mark Peters: 'Mind-bottling,' 'jar-dropping,' and 'lame man’s terms' are all eggcorns--a type of common and somewhat logical language goof named after a misspelling of 'acorn.'

Jan Freeman: [B]ecause they make sense, eggcorns are interesting in a way that mere disfluencies and malapropisms are not: They show our minds at work on the language, reshaping an opaque phrase into something more plausible. They’re tiny linguistic treasures, pearls of imagination created by clothing an unfamiliar usage in a more recognizable costume... [W]hen the misconceived word or expression has spread so widely that we all use it, it’s a folk etymology--or, to most of us, just another word. Bridegroom, hangnail, Jerusalem artichoke--all started out as mistakes. But we no longer beat ourselves up because our forebears substituted groom for the Old English guma ('man'), or modified agnail ('painful nail') into hangnail, or reshaped girasole ('sunflower' in Italian) into the more familiar Jerusalem.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Eggcorn Definition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Eggcorn Definition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Eggcorn Definition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).