Linguist Rob Watts of RobWords consulted with Professor Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania to discuss Eggcorns, the linguistic term for quirky homonymic interpretations of misheard phrases.
Eggcorns are no “old wise tale”. These misheard phrases are everywhere.
Eggcorns differ from malapropisms (the use of a similar sounding word or phrase in place of the correct one), mondegreens (mishearing of phrases that gives new meaning), folk etymologies (socially accepted words or phrases used within a community before corrected) as they replace the word without replacing meaning.
We also discuss other linguistic calamities, including malapropisms, folk etymologies and mondegreens.
Eggcorns differ from other linguistic missteps as they are a very creative way to make sense of something unfamiliar or nonsensical. Examples include “for all intents and purposes” ( eggcorn: “for all intensive purposes”), “dog eat dog world” ( eggcorn: “doggy dog world”), and “damp squib” (eggcorn: “damp squid”).
Eggcorns are not necessarily a sign of ignorance. On the contrary: in many cases they’re a sign of creative intelligence. Eggcorns very often form when someone is trying to make sense of what to their ear is nonsensical. They’re doing verbal gymnastics to try and find a phrase that works with the context and the sounds they’ve just come across.