We all mishear words sometimes. But what happens when lots of people mishear the same word or phrase? You get a weird new phrase that doesn’t make sense, but all those people are using it, and it spreads.
These words and phrases are called eggcorns, and you’d be surprised at how far they can get, especially on the internet. Eggcorn itself is an eggcorn for acorn, coined when some linguistic fanatics were discussing these misheard words and realized there was no name for the phenomenon.
Usually, you don’t. There’s no surefire way to tell an eggcorn from the correct phrase, unless you’ve got a discerning ear (or eye). If you’re not sure, one of the easiest ways to figure out if an eggcorn is the real thing is to ask yourself, does this make sense?
Granted, not all of the real sayings make much more sense than the eggcorn. Some phrases were coined so long ago that most of us use them without understanding the original meaning. When technology or traditions change, formerly common ideas fall to the wayside, even while the related sayings live on. We still say hang up the phone when few people still have landlines with handheld receivers in their homes.
The other way to figure it out is to look the words up for yourself. If you don’t understand a phrase, turn to your friend Google. You might find that the reason it doesn’t make sense is because you’re saying the wrong thing.
We’ve put together some common examples to help you recognize eggcorns in the wild. If you’re one of the people getting it wrong, now’s your chance to change your ways.
Incorrect: Intensive purposes Correct: Intents and purposes
Incorrect: Wheelbarrel Correct: Wheelbarrow
Incorrect: Labtop Correct: Laptop
Incorrect: Pre-Madonna Correct: Prima donna
Incorrect: Ice tea Correct: Iced tea
Incorrect: Biting my time Correct: Biding my time
Incorrect: Would of Correct: Would’ve/Would have
Incorrect: Day-today Correct: Day-to-day
Incorrect: All over sudden Correct: All of a sudden
Incorrect: Firstable Correct: First of all
Incorrect: Feeble position Correct: Fetal position
Incorrect: Front in center Correct: Front and center
And our favorite, from the world of memes:
Incorrect: Bone apple tea Correct: Bon appétit
The list goes on. Some eggcorns sound the same in their mistaken forms as they do if you say them correctly. The differences are subtle, and sometimes you only realize it’s a mistake when you see it written it down.
It’s kind of like when people write “could of” instead of “could’ve.” Out loud, they sound the same.
The comforting thing about eggcorns is that we’re all guilty of using them. There are even eggcorns that people argue over which version is correct: buck naked and butt naked or another thing coming and another think coming.
Do you know which version is correct? We’ll leave those decisions up to you.
Feature photo credit: Cary Bates/ Unsplash