Eggcorn

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Eggcorn is a term in semi-jocular linguistic usage. It is similar to mondegreen (q.v.). The term has been used in its current sense only since 2003.

An eggcorn is a mis-spelling derived from the faulty analysis of something heard and misunderstood. Eggcorns usually base a spelling on a familiar word to represent the thing heard (or mis-remembered) which may be not only unfamiliar but previously unknown. For example, the name eggcorn itself is taken from a misinterpretation of 'acorn', presumably thinking of it as the seed ('corn') shaped like an egg of the oak. Mondegreens may best be thought of as a sub-set of eggcorns, their distinguishing feature being that they are derived from a given song lyric or poem.

The first recorded example of an eggcorn in OED is from 1844: "I hope you are as harty as you ust to be and that you have plenty of egg corn [acorn] bread which I cann not get her[e] and I hope to help you eat some of it soon" [sic], a letter from S. G. McMahan in Albert L. Hurtado John Sutter: a life on the North American frontier (University of Oklahoma Press, 2006). Further examples include 'to the manor born' as a version, presumably implying a sense of privileged birthright, as a spelling of Hamlet's observation about customary behaviour, "to the manner born"; and 'old-timer's disease' as a (logical enough) version of "Alzheimer's disease".

The following note is taken from the The Eggcorn Database (http://eggcorns.lascribe.net/), a website which users of AWE may find amusing - and instructive.
"The word eggcorn was coined collectively by the linguists who write at the excellent group blog Language Log. Linguists collect usage examples. Unlike language teachers or the often self-styled grammar experts who complain in the press about the decay of English, they are not picky: the actual, real-life use is what counts, and the most interesting bits - those that might reveal something about how real people apprehend their language - often stretch the received rules of correctness ... In September 2003, Mark Liberman reported (Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, [1]) an incorrect yet particularly suggestive creation: someone had written 'egg corn' instead of 'acorn'. It turned out that there was no established label for this type of non-standard reshaping. Erroneous as it may be, the substitution involved more than just ignorance: an acorn is more or less shaped like an egg; and it is a seed, just like grains of corn. So if you don't know how acorn is spelled, egg corn actually makes sense."
  • [1] For a note on mondegreens, go to mondegreen.