A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Category: English

On Lady Mondegreen’s Eggcorns

Imperfection is part and parcel of how we communicate, and one of the beautiful things about the evolution of language is how little imperfections can create entirely new constructs, as words and phrases are misheard, misunderstood, misinterpreted and misstated. One of my favourite examples in this regard is the ‘mondegreen’, a term normally used to denote a misheard song lyric, although it originated with a line of poetry:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry

The poor victim Lady Mondegreen was in fact Sylvia Wright’s interpretation of hearing the true line: And laid him on the green.

However, aside from causing amusement and consternation, there’s only so much a misheard lyric can contribute to the language. But a word I came across today covers a much broader spectrum for when people mishear words and parse them through their own filters to make sense of the noise: eggcorns. The word itself has a cute origin: when you’re told for the first time that the egg-shaped seed in your hand is an ‘acorn’, thinking you heard ‘eggcorn’ seems a natural enough assumption.

Here’s a great list of some of the more common eggcorns around. It’s particularly interesting when more archaic words end up being given a new lease of life, such as when talking about testing your metal, or transforming the Spanish cucaracha into the more familiar cockroach.

[Image courtesy of Tamara Menzi @ unsplash.com]

Whose Syndrome is it Anyway? Apostrophes in Disease Names

In recent years the media enjoyed regaling us with the search for the Higgs boson, but I’m sure many people wondered what was so special about Mr Higg’s boson that we should all be so interested in him finding it again, let alone curious about how he lost it in the first place. Postulate a new thesis or make a new discovery and you’re liable to have your name enter the vernacular. Found a company associated with a new invention, and the name may even become standard for the innovation. Yet at what point does it all stop being yours? We all learn about Newton’s laws of gravitation in the classroom, whilst some go on to read up on Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Archimedes’ buoyancy principle, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion – it all seems so predictable, until it comes unstuck with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Not the laws of physics, the laws of English.

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This post is also available in English.

Kleine Randbemerkung. In meiner Zeit als Sprachdozent habe ich oft den Fehler bei den Steigerungsformen gehört, wobei der Deutsche die Präposition ‘als’ durch ein ähnlich klingendes englisches  Wort ersetzt:

Die Grünen sind beliebter als die SPD.

The Green Party is more popular as the SPD.

Jedoch wo man eine andere Komparativform verwendet, ob umgangsprachlich oder als Dialektform, führt dies zu anderen Fehlübersetzungen in dem Englischen:

Es ist schneller mit dem Zug zu fahren wie mit dem Auto.

It’s faster to go by train like with the car.

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Dieser Eintrag ist auch auf Deutsch verfügbar.

Short aside. Teaching English in Germany, I often hear the mistake in comparative forms where Germans use a similar-sounding conjunction to their own:

Die Grünen sind beliebter als die SPD.

The Green Party is more popular as the SPD.

Curiously, where speakers use an alternative colloquial or dialect form of the comparative, it sometimes results in similar ‘mistranslations’ in English:

Es ist schneller mit dem Zug zu fahren wie mit dem Auto.

It’s faster to go by train like with the car.

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