Eggcorns and mondegreens

Mondegreens are misheard versions of phrases, sayings, lyrics, poetic phrases, or slogans. The term comes from the Scottish author Sylvia Write, who wrote a 1954 article in Harper’s Magazine in which she mentioned misinterpreting a Scottish ballad. The original line, “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and laid him on the green,” she misheard as, “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and Lady Mondegreen.”

Although the term mondegreen has been used for misheard phrases not from songs and poems, eggcorn, which originated in a 2003 Language Log post, has been advanced as a broader term for misheard words or phrases that retain their original meanings. So, for example, doggy-dog world is an eggcorn because it’s used in roughly the same way as the original phrase, dog-eat-dog world.

In the list below, the eggcorns are linked (to our posts covering the topics), and the original forms of the phrases are in parentheses:

Abject lesson (object lesson)

All in all (all and all)

Bad wrap (bad rap)

Beckon call (beck and call)

Butt naked (buck naked)

Day in age (day and age)

Deep-seeded (deep-seated)

Doggy-dog (dog-eat-dog)

Far be it for me (far be it from me)

For all intensive purposes (for all intents and purposes)

Hare’s breath (hair’s breadth)

Must of (must’ve)

Neck in neck (neck and neck)

On tenderhooks (on tenterhooks)

One in the same (one and the same)

Road to hoe (row to hoe)

Safety-deposit box (safe-deposit box)

142 thoughts on “Eggcorns and mondegreens”

  1. Wow!  Just found your site and will probably post regularly.  My favorite is younger folks who say “butt naked” rather than “buck naked.”  That’s surely and eggcorn, isn’t it?  The former makes sense,  but is jarring to me.  

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  2. Yeah,  so we know the term “eggcorn” arose in 2003 on a Language Log post. But why? What is the derivation or explanation for why “eggcorn” instead of “ovagrain” or some other? 

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    • I bet “eggcorn” is an eggcorn for acorn.

      So it’s supposed to be clever.

      And it’s still different from a mondegreen or a malapropism, AFAICT.

      Mondegreen = misheard phrase, slogan, lyric, etc; there’s no usage aspect required. Like thinking the lyric is “kiss this guy” instead of “kiss the sky”.

      Malapropism = word used incorrectly in place of a similar-sounding word. For instance a lot of people mix up “precedent” and “precedence”. Both are real words that sound similar, but have different meanings.

      Eggcorn = misheard word or phrase that keeps getting used. My mom always says “All-timers” instead of Alzheimer’s.

      Anyway, I don’t know if that really makes eggcorn a legitimate term, but I think that’s the idea behind it and how it is distinct from similar concepts.

      BTW, “ovagrain” is pretty good.

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      • I wonder if there’s a word for conscious, even clarifying misuses? One that I have heard with some frequency is “Old-Timers’ Disease” for Alzheimer’s Disease, and from people who know the correct term.

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        • There should be a term for that, because conscious, intentional misuses are plenty, whether they’re meant to clarify or not. A few friends and relatives and I are guilty of doing that purely for humor.

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        • My grandmother disapproved of my step-mom using a crock-pot. She always intentionally referred to it as the “crack-pot.”

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      • LOTS of people use Old Timers, which tells me they must not read—ever! All-timers is new to me. What on earth is ovagrain? There are very few Mr. and Mrs. Malaprops who can rival Moliere for humor! I regret to say that I have always said safety deposit box—perhaps because I’ve never had one. I assumed my items would be safe in the safety of a bank……And I DO find eggcorn to be extremely clever. No one I know uses it, but you know there must be many who do. Little kids are professional “egg corners” before they learn what’s what.

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  3. The one I’m hearing with surprising regularity is “supposibly” as opposed to “supposedly.” It’s so frequent, in fact, that I fear it may become common usage at some point. And that will the point at which I give up.

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        • Supposably is a real word (in American English only), but it’s not a synonym for supposedly. So when someone says “supposably” instead of “supposedly”, they are just as incorrect as if they had said “it’s in the Bill of Rites” instead of “it’s in the Bill of Rights”.

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          • not exactly, because supposably and supposedly are pronounced differently. Rights and rites have no distinguishing difference in pronunciation.

            Supposably: Capable of being supposed : conceivable – “Supposably, the guy who seems to have killed her didn’t.”

            Supposedly: According to what is generally assumed or believed – “Supposedly, the guy who seems to have killed her did!”

    • I thought maybe it was a combination of supposedly and possibly. AND that it started out as a joke but people just kept using it thinking it was a real word.

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      • That does happen. My late father enjoyed coining silly words, well actually making them up, and a few of them have actually persisted among some still-living family and friends to this day. The biggest joke was when Dad forgot how he originally spelled or defined one of the words.

        One of my cousins fell for one of Dad’s words (glöbysch, pronounced glibbish) many years ago. The spelling went from glöbysch, meaning a Hungarian count (or so my cousin thought), to the easier glibbish, meaning sort of yucky or blah, as in “the weather is sorta glibbish today.” My mom and sister continued to use the word during their lifetimes after my dad died. I still consider it a real word, but I prefer the original spelling.

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  4. Would “could care less” count as an eggcorn?
    I hear so many people say that, and it drives me nuts.

    These are very similar to malapropisms.

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    • This one drives me batty, as well. SO many people say “I could care less”, when they really mean that they *couldn’t* care less.

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      • Just as with “butt naked” I sometimes get sucked into using incorrect grammar such as “I could care less” along with my less-educated friends even though I know better. I don’t generally do that among my educated peers except when intentionally being humorous. However, I feel as if being too grammatical all the time makes some people uncomfortable, so I shut off the “drives me batty” brain cells and go with the flow. But some written errors (such as your vs. you’re, its vs. it’s, there vs. their vs. they’re and to vs. too vs. two) still drive me batty.

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        • I feel that originally the term, regardless of origin, is just one of those crazy idioms that slips permanently into use. A few of them must surely be tolerated. Irregardless, no one likes a grammar troll on line!

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  5. My favorite, from my friend Alex the linguist:

    “…And good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

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  6. This is not just about about mishearing (although that tends to be a factor) but also symptomatic of generally poor vocabulary in society. For instance, in the case of “hair’s breadth” people tend to not even have the word “breadth” in their vocabulary so they hear it as “breath” and then reason in their minds that “hair’s breath” is the correct saying because “we all know how small the breath of a hair is,” or some other such reasoning.

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      • No, they don’t, because they teach what they need to get students to pass tests so that teachers and schools get higher ratings and more money. Spelling and grammar are taught well enough, however, that the students who really want to learn still manage to learn. When I went to school in the 1950’s and 1960’s I believe they did a better job of teaching (or at least tried), but students who didn’t want to apply themselves still didn’t learn very well. Students’ vocabulary, grammar and spelling were sometimes bad then and are even worse now.

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        • Well, I went to a parochial school in Queens for 5 years and it was far better than any of the public schools I attended later on. In fact,it was the BEST school that I ever attended. To this day, I wish we hadn’t moved out of Queens when we did.

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          • Most of the kids on my dad’s side of the family went to parochial schools and got a better education than what was offered in most public schools. Some of them didn’t like the religious classes, however, and left the Roman Catholic Church later on. Unfortunately, Dad and a few others had a bad habit of asking “Why?” and not accepting the dogma without question.

            I was lucky in that my small public junior high and high school featured some excellent teachers, so I learned a lot. Had I gone to the larger local parochial school, for which my parents wouldn’t pay, I might have had a wider choice of other classes. I would’ve enjoyed the extra foreign language classes since that was my major in college.

            However, my instruction and hard work in French, chemistry, math, history and English was good enough to get me advanced placement as a college freshman, so I didn’t do too badly and graduated in a little over 3 years. I probably couldn’t have done any better than I did in public school. It’s too bad that you moved and didn’t have the same kind of experience I did.
            On a side note: I got a large scholarship and went to an excellent small private Methodist Church-related college rather than a large public junior college and university, so in that situation I have to agree with you about getting a better education in a private school. I didn’t go to a public university until graduate school, where many of my classes were smaller and I got more individual attention.

          • I’m a Lutheran born and raised, and after more than 50 years I still attend church regularly because I enjoy doing so, and always have enjoyed doing so. The parochial school I attended was Grace Lutheran Day School on Springfield Blvd. in Queens Village. I believe it has been open and operating now continuosly for 60 – 70 years. It was the best school I ever attended.

          • That’s interesting about the school you attended in Queens. I’m not familiar with Lutheran parochial schools. I’ve seen schools affiliated with other non-Roman Catholic churches, but in most of those cases I didn’t know very much about their curricula, teachers, administrators or staff.

            I’m not completely sure how long some of the public schools I’ve attended have been open or if any of the three in Chicago or Park Forest, IL have closed, but the ones in West Burlington, IA have been rebuilt or relocated in new buildings over the years. The building where I attended grades 6-12 was torn down about 2 years ago. Despite having new, restored or demolished buildings, Simpson College (or its predecessor names) has been more or less in the same general location in Indianola, IA since 1860. That’s far longer than any other school I’ve attended, although I’m not sure how long the University of Illinois has had a campus in Urbana or Champaign, IL.

            I was raised in several different Protestant denominations, beginning with Presbyterian, according to where our family lived. My longest time with any one church was with the Methodist or United Methodist Church, but I have either joined or attended services at a few other Christian churches or Jewish temples.

            Due to philosophy and religion courses I was required to take at Simpson College I was exposed to several Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Shinto and Jainism, as well as the three main Western religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. This caused me to change gears for a while and I didn’t attend any specific churches. Later I joined a couple other Christian churches, including a charismatic one, but certain things I didn’t like caused me to leave those churches. I have left Christianity a few times and always came back, but I currently am a Christian with no defined church or denomination that feels comfortable, so I don’t attend church. My worship is occasionally with friends or at home alone.

          • I graduated Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. It was founded in 1837, so it has been operating for approximately 175 years.

          • Wow! I’m impressed. That is a long time for a university to be operating, although I believe a few of the Ivy League schools have been around longer. You posted this while I was busy looking at curriculum and information about the U of I at U-C. It took a while before I found the date founded and updated that comment. I was busy looking at the English, foreign languages (and literatures and cultures) and linguistics courses and some degree requirements.

            They changed a few things since I was there. However, I never quite finished my M.A. in Linguistics and barely got started on an M.S. in Computer Science a few years later. The funny thing is I had already fulfilled my Ph.D. language requirement in French and German while working on the M.A., but that was fairly easy, especially since I was taking graduate courses in French at the time and studying more German on my own to help me research my Master’s Essay topic.

            My employer decided I was too valuable in the Data Processing Dept. to leave while I was commuting back and forth weekly to summer school computer science classes and work (and doing work for my employer while at school), so I was bribed with a huge raise and my graduate advisor told me to take the money, because that was about as much as I could expect to make with a master’s degree. That was my last time at an institution of higher learning, although I took many work-related courses later on. I enjoyed the offsite ones better than the onsite ones because I got to travel to interesting cities.

            It’s interesting that we’re here on a grammar-related site, which ties in with most of my college and graduate studies, but my career was on a different subject. However, computer programming has its own vocabulary and grammar, so it’s not totally unlike what’s discussed on this website, but mondegreens, eggcorns and malapropisms had a different form if they existed on my computers at work. Some other programmers, whose work I had to correct many times, wrote code that reminds me of mathematical or logical malapropisms or eggcorns.

    • AND the use of internet messaging, ‘smart’ phones and the like with all the abbreviations they use. Kids these days don’t learn how to spell!

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      • No, many kids these days don’t learn how to spell or use proper grammar, but neither did many of my contemporaries back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today, however, there are spell checkers and grammar checkers on computers. What’s even worse is that some schools have quit teaching handwriting, arguing that students can use computers if they know printed letters. Not only will they have to learn to sign their names if they have to fill out written paper forms, but what will they do if and when the electricity and batteries go out?

        Some acronyms have grown so widespread in use that they’ve become an accepted part of the language. Consider all the ones such as FYI, SNAFU and abbreviations such as USA, FBI, CIA and IRS that predate computers. Those led to BTW, LOL, u, r and many more. I had to ask friends what some of them (such as LOL) meant at first, but now I figure out many by context or cheat and use Google online to look them up.

        I use many of them myself now, but once I got a smartphone where my text length wasn’t limited I quit using u and r, among others. Abbreviations such as ppl for people drive me nuts, especially if people use them when space isn’t an issue. I have no problem with some spelling reform, however. It’s fine with me to spell tonight as tonite, though as tho and through as thru. Most people have forgotten or never learned the historical reasons for some English spelling and pronunciation. Those of us who’ve studied linguistics, advanced English or other foreign languages such as French, German, Dutch, Latin and/or Greek have an advantage there.

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  7. Also, i hear “supposevly” (however one would spell that!) As opposed to “supposedly”…. I correct EVERYONE that does that!
    As it feels as though MY IQ it’s dropping, having heard that! Lol!

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  8. Oops!! I see that you list ‘duck tape’ as being an eggcorn of ‘duct tape’. In fact it’s the other way around!

    It was originally named ‘duck tape’, referring to the cotton ‘duck’ fabric embedded in the tape for strength. Over the years it grew to be widely used for sealing the joints in heating ductwork, and was subsequently misheard as ‘duct tape.’ Perfectly understandable of course!

    It’s interesting how often it’s assumed that ‘duck’ is wrong.
    So can we coin a new phrase out of this? A ‘reverse eggcorn’ ?? (^_^)

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    • As I read that in the list, I thought to myself, “I’ve been saying/writing it wrong all this time and making fun of someone when I’ve seen it written or heard it the ‘right’ way?”

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  9. Very funny–“doggy-dog” haha. But I do think you have “all-in-all” and “all and all” switched. The correct (or original versions) are in parentheses, but you have “all and all,” in parentheses which is the incorrect version.

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  10. I really enjoyed this entry. I reserve judgement when I hear these phrases mispronounced because it’s so common to do so. My favorite is “Doggy-dog world.” I just imagine a world where dogs rule the world because it’s a doggy-dog world!

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      • Actually, it turns out that it’s a British vs. American thing and that what I learned in school is incomplete. Both spellings are considered correct, but judgment is preferred in the US and judgement is preferred in the UK according to some sources. This word is an exception to the normal English hard/soft g/c sound rules which say that soft g or c should be followed by e or i. We don’t usually spell acknowledgement as acknowledgment. Of course, that word has several spelling “problems” in Modern English

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  11. I had a Marine buddy from Wyoming, a rodeo rider, who used to say “horse and pony show” instead of “dog and pony show”. (The phrase comes up a lot in the military, what with all the parades and inspections and what have you.) When I corrected him on it, he laughed at me, the dumb New Yorker, and asked, “Why the hell would dogs and ponies be in the same show?”

    I had no answer. Score one for the eggcorn.

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        • Only if it dries up in the container and you’re trying to dig it out. But I forget the correct term and often use the wrong one without realizing my mistake. I wasn’t in the army or other services. I had a serious illness as a teen, so I didn’t cut the muster.

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      • When someone asked me what the correct form of the word was, I knew “February” was all right but I couldn’t clearly explain why. I thought it was because “Febuary” might be easier to pronounce for
        some people.
        I’m French and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading this post. Funny, witty and “enlighting” !
        One of my uncles used to speak of “nappes fréNEtiques” (frenzied water) instead of “nappes fréAtiques” (ground water) :)
        Being an English teacher, I spend time teaching my students not to say “grin” when they mean “green” (long vowels vs short vowels) and of course, none of them are left to Sink but all encouraged to THink. Cheers to all of yous !

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        • Yes, Chris, many people say “Febuary” because it’s easier to pronounce than “February” and because of the similarity to “January.” It’s a little different from «janvier» and «février» en français.

          Because you are an English teacher, this website should be of great interest to you. I’ve only rediscovered it recently thanks to a post I received on Facebook..

          I can imagine that your French students of English have the vowel length problem because they overcompensate and reverse the “i” = “ee” sound in French vs. usual “i” = “ih” sound rule in English. However, they would get confused by words such as “machine” where the English pronunciation is similar to French. And since there are no dental fricative “th” phonemes (IPA: θ and ð) in French, they tend to substitute the alveolar sibilant “s” and “z” phonemes. This, of course, is the same for Germans, among others.

          Some people here in the U.S. actually do incorrectly use “yous” for the plural of “you,” as you know. It would be similar to «tu» and «vous» in French, but should be like «vous» both singular and plural. English used to use “thou” and “you,” but “thou” has become archaic. Your use of “yous” is funny, because you obviously know better.

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          • I do. I wouldn’t use “yous” with my students, of course. The main reason why French people have a problem with the ‘th’ sound is a psychological one I guess. To a French earsaying “th” sounds like people have a lisp and few people deliberately want to mispronounce words because they don’t want others to make fun of them. We play ‘lisping’ games with my 10 years old and have lots of fun. With teenagers though, I tread on eggshells (and very carefully !) and would only correct them when necessary (sink vs think, or free/three/tree), the rest of the time, we go for “a French accent is sexy and all the girls/boys would be after you with this one, you know ! :)”.

            Le 03/01/2015 06:09, Disqus a écrit :

          • In which way would they be after me? Saying I was bad for asking them to pronounce the words the English or American way? If they did, I would tease them back. Despite the many years since I studied French in 8th grade thru 1½ years of graduate school (1960-1970), I did have a friendship with a French woman between 1974 and 1983, where I got to speak French frequently. At various other times in during the 1970’s thru the 1990’s I got a chance to speak French a little more often.

            I have a friend and a cousin who sometimes write to me in French and vice versa or I read or hear someone speaking French, but I don’t often get to speak it very much these days. However, I do practice at home in order to keep my French accent as good as possible. Yes, I talk to myself if necessary. My main problem is understanding spoken French unless I hear a lot of it and get my ears and brain accustomed to it at normal speed again.

            Anyway, I could tease your students back and even simulate and try to correct their problems with English in an amusing way. Cet Américain, pourquoi parle-t-il comme ça? Je ne sais pas (ou «J’sais pas» comme je l’ai appris plus tard il y a beaucoup d’ans).

          • “In which way would they be after me?”
            Sorry. Let’s call that “a Frenchism”. What I meant is that ” if a French accent was sexy and all the girls/boys would be madly in love with my student so thick his/her accent is at times. Mind you, I don’t think having an accent is sexy – except a wee bit of a Scottish one maybe :)

  12. “All and all” is in parentheses. Are you suggesting that is the original phrase? For all intensive purposes I’m assuming that must of been a mistake.

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  13. medical malapropisms I encounter frequently:
    prostrate (Prostate)

    Ol’-timer’s (Alzheimer’s)
    High-dell hernia (Hiatal hernia) – this one is perhaps an eggcorn

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  14. Growing up, we listened to a song playing basketball and had a resultant mondegreen. We sang along, loudly, “So loud! We are so loud to Christ!” (a song by group White Heart circa 1987). We thought it was weird that the lyrics made no sense, but liked the song anyway. One day, a different friend heard us and started laughing. He said, “It’s ‘sold out’…’sold out to Christ!”
    oh… that’s why the song title was “Sold Out”! Not one of my more brilliant moments.

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    • Back in the 1980’s I used to wonder about a song where they said “Go Mustangs!” Turns out it came from a movie dealing with weird ghosts. Then I finally heard it correctly: “Ghostbusters!” I kept wondering why they were gonna call “Go Mustangs!” I blame the melodies and instrumental backgrounds for some of the numerous mondegreens I’ve suffered.

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      • I had an ex-girlfriend who couldn’t understand why the lyrics to “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” said “me and you and a donkey who”…

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        • My brother use to torture me and tell me lyrics that I would later find out were completely wrong. My favorite: Nice BOOBS instead of Night Moves…just take my word for it, you will never hear that song again without singing NICE BOOBS!

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          • Oh wait…there was also my college roommate who was convinced that the show LA Law was La Law!

  15. When I was talking to my sister (who is 40-something) a couple of years ago, I was describing something as “bleeding like a stuck hog”. She started laughing and said that for all of her life she could not understand what “bleeding like a stuffed hog” meant! :-)

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  16. “All In All” on that list of links is backwards from the easy the others are listed. “All In All” is correct. It’s “all and all” that’s the eggcorn.

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  17. I’ve seen “another words” (in other words) from one of my colleagues and “moister” instead of moisture from another. Engineers are not the source of good English in the U.S.

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  18. A buddy of mine is like a walking, talking greatest hits collection of these. Not only that, but he loves to talk, so it’s a great combo. Irregardless instead of regardless. Could care less instead of couldn’t care less. Supposibly instead of supposedly. Medium strip instead of median strip.

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  19. You’ve written “all in all” as the eggcorn of “all and all” but it is, in fact, the other way round, as the link you’ve provided indicates. It got me very confused.

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  20. Best Mondegreen I ever heard (2nd hand): “Slow motion Walter, fire engine guy” (Smoke on the water, fire in the sky). From some guy actually trying to request the song “Slow motion Walter” from a live band.

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    • ” Juan Peel makes you larger and Juan Peel makes you small and the Juans that mutter ‘gift zoo’ don’t do anything atoll ”

      …and then there are those who actually say aloud abbreviations that are only meant to be read, like saying “I-E” rather than “such as ” or “R-E” instead of “regarding” in worst case l saying WWII as the eight syllable ” Double-U Double-U Two ” and not the three syllable “World War Two”

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  21. This is a malapropism. I have found that, if you begin using a malapropism ironically, eventually someone will correct you! So, only use them with well-educated folks that see your wit, not with those somewhat educated.

    I had a boss that could tell I’d be fun, the first time he met me. He looked at at me and said, “You must think I’m… ingorant!” He had paused there and made a show of a great effort to get that word out.

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  22. They left out my personal favorite, cadillitic converter (catalytic converter). It catalyzes exhaust, does not convert you car into a Cadillac.

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  23. You’ve missed out “quote unquote”, as though you’re quoting someone and then retroactively negating your quote.

    The phrase should be “quote, end quote”.

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  24. We have a street here in Detroit named “Lahser” obviously of french origin. Pronunced properly it’s “Lah-ser”. Pretty much any born and raised Detroiter will pronounce it as “Lash-er”. I did myself for many years, not even seeing the obvious error.

    I only first became aware of it about 15 years ago when there was a story on the local news about it. Seems they were installing new freeway exit signs and it was an out of state company that made the signs. Yep, you guessed it! All of the new signs had to be scrapped because they had spelled it “Lasher” Exit!!

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  25. From the movie “Donnie Brasco” I picked up the phrase, “pull the wood over my eyes.”

    My all-time favorite from a woman I worked with in the Mid-Atlantic region, “fur-headed boy”, instead of “fair-haired boy”.

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  26. I have a friend who consistently uses what I now know as egghorn :) … It has become a rather charming feature of hers. I don’t let it get to me although I’m a bit of a grammar nut. For example: she is ‘plump full’ (sorta makes sense)

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