Word of the Month: Eggcorn

David Zapatka

Is it just me or are you hearing this too? It seems more people are using words or phrases that sound like but are mistakenly used in a semi-logical or seemingly plausible way for the correct word or phrase either on its own or as part of an expression. While at Rudy’s BBQ, one of my favorite restaurants, I overheard a conversation about ordering “cold slaw.” Really? Cold slaw! I couldn’t help but smile. I guess it’s an easy mistake to make. After all, coleslaw is slaw and it is cold. Have I “peaked,” “peeked,” or “piqued” your interest in this topic? Yes, this is another commonly mistaken use of words that sound alike. The correct word is “pique,” not “peak” or “peek.” “Pique” is derived from the French word “piquer,” which means to prick or stimulate. “Peak” is the verb you use to talk about reaching a maximum or coming to a highest point. “Peek” has to do with looking, especially furtively or quickly or through a small space, as in “open the box and peek inside.” It’s both a noun and a verb; when you peek, you take a peek.

These mistaken uses of words are so common, there is a word for this. These are called eggcorns. Does it sound like “acorns?” It does for a reason. The word “eggcorn” is an “eggcorn.” People mistakenly say “eggcorn” instead of “acorn” thinking they are properly identifying what dropped from a tree in their yard because an acorn is a roundish seed that sprouts oak trees. These seeds are shaped like eggs and have the seed-like nature of a kernel of corn. For all intents and purposes (or is it all intensive purposes?) these mistakes are made unwittingly by people. It’s “all intents and purposes” not “all intensive purposes” meaning “in every practical sense” or “virtually,” so we use it when something is effectively the same as something else, another eggcorn.

Eggcorn noun egg·corn | ˈeg-ˌkȯrn a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase either on its own or as part of a set expression.

Origin and Etymology—altered from acorn

First Used—Sept. 23, 2003 from the blog Language Log. The blog editor Mark Liberman reported second-hand on a woman who would allegedly write “egg corns” for “acorns.” Linguist Geoffrey Pullum then suggested “egg corns” as the name for such mistakes.

Eggcorn used in a sentence:

Once described as a “slip of the ear,” an eggcorn is the written expression of a plausible mishearing of a standard term. “For all intents and purposes,” for example, is a set phrase—inherently redundant, perhaps, but it’s the idiom. It gets misheard, though, as “for all intensive purposes,” and sometimes appears that way in print. That’s an eggcorn.—Ruth Walker

Please submit your favorite eggcorns or any word you may like to share, along with your insights and comments, to [email protected].