Cognitive Dissidence

By John Conway | November 8, 2007 5:45 pm

My mother-in-law, a fellow word-play lover, turned me on to the Eggcorn Database, so I thought I’d try to strum up support for what they’re doing to catalog the ongoing daily damage to (or enhancement of…you decide) the English language.

The database has nearly 600 instances of common expressions in English which, via a homonym or near-homonym substitute (in lame man’s terms, a word that sounds the same), result in really oddly apropos but totally novel (and hilarious) coinages.

For example, you might think you have free reign to use English how you see fit, but for that you’d need to be a monarch rather than simply riding on horseback. I am not trying to ferment trouble here. On the contrary, once you’ve mastered a few of these you might just pass the SAT with flying collars.

All tolled you wouldn’t think there are so many of these eggcorns around, and truth be told, for all intensive purposes you might not recognize all that many when you do come across them. You mine as well grin and bare it. (Or is it grim and bear it?) We all have to bare the brunt of this assault!

In the mist of all these eggcorns, all this pigeon English, where can we get any piece of mind? (Okay that last one is not in the database…yet.) As you pour over the New York Times, see if you can spot any (I found one on line the other day, and didn’t spill a drop).

Well I hope I’ve peaked your interest, or at least wetted your appetite. I’ll sieze and desist now. After all I am a ten year professor and should have better things to be doing, at least if I want to stay gamefully employed.

  • Rien

    Sounds Skinny Puppy titles. For example “Love in Vein” and “Lust Chance,” both from “Last Rights.”

  • Rien

    “Sounds like” that was supposed to be.

  • tacitus

    Those examples you site? Its a mute point, but their doesn’t seam to be much anyone can be done about they’re proflagration around the Internets.

  • Sili

    It really gets my goat how small the blogosphere is. I think of my interests as relatively diverse, but yet they keep getting connected by links and commenters.

    It’s enough to make you give of the goat.

  • Sili

    *give up the goat.

  • Lee Kottner

    Oh no. Now I know where Spider Robinson gets all malaprops and puns from. Your post sounded frightening like some of his prose.

  • Martin La Belle

    Very clever. It is a shame how few Americans can express themselves well.

    to my Blog

  • smm

    my favorite: a friend told me that, “It would be who of

  • JimV

    Now I know why you call yourselves Comic Variance.

    (Good job.)

  • Mike

    Let me go off on a tangent, and comment on a misuse of the English language that I have seen in every scientific paper that I have read (after learning about the distinction), which is the use of “which” when one should use “that.”

  • rusell

    Boy, I can’t believe my ice…

  • jackd

    And what do the Powers to Be say about it?

  • Mike

    … they got off Scott free (or Scotch free).

  • Markk

    The thing is, “free reign”, “ferment trouble”, “In the mist of” all seem to be pretty good metaphors to me. Good mutations that might have a long life!

  • John Ramsden

    > Let me go off on a tangent, and comment on a misuse of the English language that I have seen in every scientific paper that I have read (after learning about the distinction), which is the use of “which” when one should use “that.”

    Huh?! That’s a new one on me – I use them interchangeably depending on how the words flow and avoiding repetitions of “that”. A quick web search turned up, and I presume (not “assume” *g*) you’re referring to Rule 2. But for me no more than the comma is required to distinguish a supplementary clause from a qualifying clause. I guess it must be another of those US/Brit tomarto/tomayto things!

    On the subject of word play, I have a book somewhere with a couple of dozen Latin-English homonyms, such as “Caesar adsum iam forte. Pompey ad erat” (“Caesar had some jam for tea; Pompey had a rat”).

  • Ahcuah

    That was “offal”.

  • MedallionOfFerret

    What you’d expect at Comic Variance,eh wot?

  • Derek Slater

    John R – Thanks, I wasn’t clear on to which which that that Mike was referring.

  • PK

    John Ramsden, your link is broken. FYI, the rules are the same in both US and UK English (and I sincerely hope you do not put a comma before “that”! ;-) ). Anyway, this is not really cognitive dissidence.

    I have a Dutch one: we have the expression “a law of Medes and Persians”, which denotes a law that cannot be broken (after the ). In Dutch it is een wet van Meden en Perzen. As a child, a friend of mine thought it was een wet van meten en persen, which sounds the same but means “a law of measuring and squeezing”.

  • citrine

    The current commando in cheek’s malapropisms should provide plenty of fodder for the site.

  • tacitus

    If only the worst damage the current CinC had inflicted on this, or any other country, had been the word “misunderestimate”.

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