Misheard phrases: they’re not exactly mondegreens (see earlier post ‘The Girl with Colitis Goes By’) but they’re close. You might call them phrasal misnomers, or first cousin to the malapropism, but they have a semi-official name: ‘egg-corns’.
This affectionate moniker (not you, Monica) comes from a mishearing of the word ‘acorns’. It’s more than likely the product of folk etymology, a homonym in the manner of ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ for ‘girasole artichoke’ or ‘cockroach’ from ‘cucaracha’.
Some egg-corns are simply amusing, like ‘damp squid,’ ‘taking things for granite’ and ‘a Spaniard in the works’. People who use such expressions may have acquired the misheard phrases as part of conversational development without questioning their lack of logic, accepting them merely as verbal place-fillers. Why would a squid ever be anything but damp? And is there some inherent vandalising trait in people from the Iberian Peninsula? I concede that ‘taking things for granite’ could be rationalised away, a reassurance of solidity, safer than the Bank of England.
But other egg-corns make no sense at all: ‘slight of hand,’ ‘time in memorial’ or ‘cool, calm and collective’. Have the speakers never paused to wonder what they’re saying? Misheard phrases can lead to misunderstandings as well as amusement. To ‘pass mustard’ might be rather painful. And a ‘mute point’ may give the impression of something left unsaid rather than something worthy of debate.
Though they’re obviously wrong, some of the following do not entirely miss their target: ‘one foul swoop,’ ‘all that glitters,’ ‘nerve racking,’ ‘chaise lounge,’ ‘honing in,’ ‘daylight savings,’ ‘butt-naked’ and ‘mind of information’. It’s not hard to see why they have deviated a little from their original.
Then we have expressions which must baffle anybody trying to learn English: ‘beyond the pail,’ ‘eek out a living’ and (my favourite) ‘for all intensive purposes’. WTF?
I see potential for wit in some egg-corns: ‘ex-patriots,’ ‘different tact,’ ‘peaked my interest,’ ‘a blessing in the skies,’ and ‘mother load’. Sure they’re wrong, but each of them could be re-served with a sprig of irony to make them palatable.
Notice I wrote ‘re-served’. An incautious keystroke or overzealous spellchecker could turn that into ‘reserved,’ just as it could re-form ‘reform,’ re-lay ‘relay’ or re-create ‘recreate’.
To illustrate the level of difficulty for a student of English encountering some of our egg-corns…
It’s a zero-sum gain in a doggie-dog world and you’ve got another thing coming if you cut off your nose despite your face.
What does the student of English make of someone ‘taking up the reigns’ or ‘pouring over’ a document or having an ‘outer body experience’? Pigeon English indeed.
Waiting with baited breath, they will soon learn that the proof is in the pudding, ex cetera. They can nip problems in the butt while puzzling over the role of basic tenants receiving just desserts with all do respect. They might tow the line, learn an abject lesson or endure a bad wrap. It’s only a hare’s breath, quote on quote, come hell or dry water, and they’ll be in dire straights or blind-sighted on tenderhooks without further adieu. That’ll wet their appetite. It’s all smoking mirrors, after all. When all is set and done they might have a new leash on life and come to turns with the statue of limitations.
From here on end, though loathe to do it, I’ll give free range to any pigment of my imagination. If not in the throws of passion or in high dungeon, I’ll curve my appetite for knit-picking, and no holes barred make a pack with the devil. Though no ten-year professor I’m willing to ferment trouble, using antidotal evidence and nauseam. In lame man’s terms, I will keep batting down the hatches, reaping what I sew and going at it hammer and thongs, all the way to my far-gone conclusion.