An eggcorn is a word or phrase that is misheard or misinterpreted. In eggcorns, words might be replaced with sound-alike words that may take on a different meaning. The word eggcorn itself comes from the mishearing of acorn.
When I was a college student, I heard some fellow students talking about guys “scamming” girls from the mezzanine in the cafeteria. They didn’t mean that the guys were trying to pull off cons. They meant they were scanning the crowd for female persons of interest.
I tend to think that the phrase “crank call” is also an eggcorn for “prank call.” “Crank call” is used to mean “prank call,” but it makes less sense. In the days of rotary phones, you might be said to be cranking something but not any more than you would for an ordinary call. Crank calls also are not instigated necessarily by old cranky people. They are pranks.
Here are some other common eggcorns.
- If you think …, you have another thing coming.
I heard this expression wrong myself for years. I may have heard it wrong, but it’s also possible people around me were saying the expression wrong. When I first saw the expression, “you have another think coming,” written out, I thought, “That makes a lot more sense.”
You can understand how it’s possible to hear it wrong, especially as “think” isn’t exactly grammatical in the phrase.
2. Pass mustard
If you want to put a condiment on your hot dog and say, “Please, pass the mustard,” that would be correct, but, if you say, “The soldier passed mustard,” that would be wrong.
“Pass musters” goes back to the 1570s and was used for soldiers passing review. Dictionary.com defines “muster” as “an assembling of troops or persons for formal inspection or other purposes.” Today, the phrase might be used for someone passing approval in other contexts.
3. All intensive purposes
This phrase is heard instead of “all intents and purposes.” Are some purposes particularly intensive? A person can be in an Intensive Care unit of a hospital, and I suppose doctors and nurses may have “intensive purposes” when saving a patient’s life. Intensive means “relating to or characterized by intensity.”
The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes” has its roots in 16th century English law. It is used to mean “virtually” or “for all practical purposes.”
4. It’s a doggy dog world.
To me, as a dog lover, “It’s a doggy dog world,” sounds like a very positive expression like “Life is a bowl of cherries.” This is an eggcorn. The original expression, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world” is much more negative, suggesting a survival of the fittest situation. There are other negative expressions concerning dogs such as “working like a dog,” so perhaps, “It’s a doggy dog world” could also sound negative in certain contexts. I used the eggcorn as a blog category, because, for cheerful posts about our canine friends, the eggcorn sounds much more positive.
The phrase “prima donna” is borrowed from Italian and literally means “first lady.” In opera, a prima donna is the leading lady of the opera. In modern times, it’s come to take on other meanings referring to a female singer, not necessarily in opera. It can also refer to the demanding and narcissistic behaviors of a “prima donna.”
It’s funny how the other expression was misheard. Madonna is certainly a well-known female singer. To me, pre-Madonna seems to make more sense as the name of a musical period than the name of a personality. We have a postmodern period after all. We’ve had quite a few musical periods that are all pre-Madonna.
6. Nip it in the butt
The original phrase is “nip it in the bud.” To nip something in the bud is to end it before it has a chance to grow. “Nip it in the butt” makes a certain kind of sense but is not really the same in meaning. Well, it’s possible for butts to be nipped. Cartoons have told us this for years. The cat butt above looks like a nice target some dogs may want to nip.
7. Out of bounce
This is an interesting one. A ball can go “out of bounds” in a game, and I suppose that, often, when the ball goes out of bounds, it is also out of bounce at some point.
8. To hell in a handbag
This is an interesting one. The first phrase is “to hell in a handbasket.” One variation makes just as much sense as the other. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that either a handbasket or a handbag are a special conveyance to hell. It is nicely alliterated. World Wide Words writes, “Some writers have read into this version that it refers to execution by the guillotine, in which the image — as in the terror associated with the French Revolution — is of the executed person’s head dropping into a basket.”
The phrase today isn’t always used to describe a person’s spiritual plight but a way of stating that society or the situation is deteriorating, as in, “Everything’s going to hell in a handbasket.”
9. Ice tea
Although this one is not as amusing as some of the others listed, it is one that I hear. The final D in “iced” must not be too audible. “Iced” makes more sense as an adjective than “ice.”
10. Old timers disease
Well, it is the old timers who are prone to dementia, but the real name for the illness is Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is named for Dr. Alois Alzheimer who made discoveries about the disease in 1906. The “Alz” in Alzheimer does mean “old” in German language, but Alzheimer is not synonymous with old timer. The name Alzheimer comes from the place name “Alzheim” which means “old hamlet.”
11. Scandally clad
Very interesting. The real phrase is “scantily clad” as in, uh, not wearing much. Of course, “scantily clad” can sometimes be tied with scandal. Saloon girls of the Old West were considered to be scandalous and could also be somewhat scantily clad, especially for the time. Now, it’s possible to be much more scantily clad without seeming scandalous to most. Just think of the difference between now and then and what is acceptable for beachwear!
12. Take it for granite
To take something for granted is to fail to appreciate that thing. Granite is a type of stone. I’m not sure how you can take something for granite.
“Are those counters stone?”
“No, they’re formica.”
“Oh, I took it for granite.”
Oh dear. That was a “Dad joke,” wasn’t it? Sorry, not sorry.
13. Takes two to tangle
It definitely takes a partner to tango, but technically, you need another item or thing to tangle too. Tango dancers also seem to get themselves in a tangle. Even so, the real phrase is “It takes two to tango.”
14. Very close veins
This is heard in place of varicose veins. Is it possible for veins to be very close? I suppose.
15. World Wind Tour
I understand what a whirlwind tour is and also a world tour, but what is a world wind tour? Perhaps, it is circumnavigating the globe on a sailboat.