Eggcorn Definition

Eggcorn Definition

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

  • "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." (Katy Steinmetz, "This Is What 'Eggcorns' Are (and Why They're Jar-Droppingly Good)." Time, May 30, 2015)
  • Skimp milk for skimmed (or skim) milk
    "He also wants women to drink a glass of skimp milk for a dash of calcium." (Nancy Alfaro, "The Dancer's Diet," Cheek2Cheek Dance Studio)
  • garbledygook for gobbledygook
    "In some ways I like it better than Trailblazers because it has a lot of practice exercises and less garbledygook." (enna99, "Math," 3rd Grade Teachers, Jan. 27, 2008)
  • Upmost for utmost: "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." (Ben Wilson, Jr., "Upmost Was the Utmost," 36th Infantry Division Association, 1999)
  • "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." (Geoffrey K. Pullum)
  • "'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.'" (Mark Peters, "Mark Peters on Eggcorns," April 2008)

In Praise of Eggcorns

"Because 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 costumeā€¦

"When 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."

(Jan Freeman, "So Wrong It's Right." The Boston Globe, Sep. 26, 2010)

Further Reading