eggcorn: plausible mishearing of a word or phrase

July 25, 2022, by Helen Whitehead

Show me your eggcorns!

I’ve just discovered eggcorns.  An eggcorn is a misheard, mistranscribed or re-interpreted word or phrase that although mistaken is somehow logical, or plausible. It may even be, in its own way, more satisfying or poetic than the original. Hence eggcorn for acorn.  You could think of it as a slip of the ear.  The word was coined in 2003 by linguist Geoffrey Pullum. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of it before!

Examples include:

‘wipe board’ for ‘whiteboard’.

‘card shark’ for ‘card sharp’.

‘hearbuds’ for ‘earbuds”.

‘very close veins’ for ‘varicose veins’.

And one I use myself: “just desserts” for “just deserts”. This one is now more common than the original.

There’s more about eggcorns and how the language changes in this animation from the BBC.

Some families have members who are a reliably rich source of eggcorns. Do you have any in your family?

The mishearing of lyrics of songs is a similar and even older named phenomenon: a mondegreen. This came from a mishearing of the poem “The Lady of Shalott” (the line “she laid him on the green” became “the Lady Mondegreen”) but is more usually found relating to song lyrics. My own example is mishearing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Fly away on a zephyr” as “Fly away on a cellphone”.

As we go through our videos editing the transcripts or captions, or watch the live transcript on Teams of a meeting we’re in, there must be some fun eggcorns. I’ve seen the occasional lecturer deliberately pronounce their own name incorrectly, as the Teams transcript never gets it right anyway. A name might simply be mis-spelled in the transcript, but there might be an eggcorn in there occasionally… Editing transcripts is such a mind-numbing task that anything that livens it up must be worthwhile, so watch out for eggcorns! Have you come across any? Can you share?



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