The wonderful Izzy informed me this morning that eggcorns were being discussed on BBC Radio 1 this morning. She seemed very excited that something I’d written about popped up on her favourite radio station just a day and a bit later, and the news certainly put a smile on my face at half past seven in the morning, which is otherwise difficult to do as I’m usually asleep.

Of course, the only explanation is that Grimmy is secretly a massive fan of my blog. Or is there something else going on here? The answer to that question is probably yes, this is probably just a coincidence. But it could also be an example of ‘The Baader-Meinhof Effect’. This is the phenomenon in which a word or phrase which one has only recently heard or learned about suddenly seems to appear with uncanny frequency. I’m sure it’s happened to us all, and it’s an example of what’s called a ‘cognitive bias’ which are essentially thoughts that make our brain irrational and often impair our judgement. A classic example of a cognitive bias is ‘The Gambler’s Fallacy’ in which it is believed that a run of bad luck is sure to be followed by something good (or the inverse) when in reality, this is not how probability works. DamnInteresting.com has an article on Baader-Meinhof which says more than I probably could about it, so I’d encourage you to read that if you’re looking for more on that topic.

So it’s possible that Izzy’s life has been surrounded by eggcorns, and that she just hadn’t noticed until now. However, the word is so peculiar, and she is so acute, that I’m willing to give her more credit than that. It’s more than likely just a coincidence, though certainly an amusing one.

But on the off-chance that it’s not a coincidence, and for some reason a Radio 1 producer has been trawling through this blog for linguistic phenomena to feature on the breakfast show, here’s two more things that are similar to eggcorns but are distinctly different. In fact it was a petty annoyance while writing the original article on eggcorns that I couldn’t write about these for fear of going off on too much of a tangent, so thank you Radio 1, for allowing me to write even more about people mishearing things.

A malapropism is the usage of an incorrect word to replace another word that sounds similar. They are often used in works of fiction when a character is attempting but failing to sound more intelligent by using a more expansive vocabulary, which can often be humorous. The term comes from Richard Birnsley Sheridan’s 1775 play ‘The Rivals’ in which a character by the name of Mrs. Malaprop utters many such utterances for comic effect. The character herself is named after the adjective ‘malapropos’ which means ‘inappropriate’. However, the technique pre-dates its name, with even Shakespeare utilising them. This has led to an alternative name for malapropisms as ‘Dogberryisms’ from Much Ado About Nothing’s Constable Dogberry who uses them frequently.

While malapropisms are often used intentionally for laughs in fiction, it’s examples from real life that can really make us question the intelligence of trusted figures, while also giving us a hearty chuckle. For example, Tony Abbot claiming that “Nobody […] is the suppository  of all information.”  or Governor of Texas and Presidential Candidate Rick Perry accidentally referring to a church shooting as an ‘accident’ instead of an ‘incident’.

Tony Abbot reminds me a little bit of John Simm as The Master in Doctor Who, though I suppose this image isn’t particularly flattering to either of them.

Mondegreens also appear frequently in our language, with many great AskReddit threads thriving on their popularity. A Mondegreen is simply a misheard lyric in a song or phrase in a poem. Real-life examples pop up all the time for me, partly because I am absolutely terrible at hearing song lyrics, but largely because my friend Laith will sing out-loud whatever he believes the lyric to be. While not the most amusing, the example that I am always able to remember is Laith’s rendition of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ which begins “Like the land of the faeries,” rather than “Like the legend of the phoenix”.

This is the art of the Magic: the Gathering card ‘Bitterblossom’ by Rebecca Gua. It’s absolutely gorgeous (as Guay’s art is wont to be) and I’m delighted that it’s tangentially relevant here.

The term itself was coined by American writer Sylvia Wright who claims that as a young girl she had misheard a line in the poem ‘The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray’ as “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray/And Lady Mondegreen.” rather than the original “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray/And laid him on the green.”

I don’t need to list examples of Mondegreens because you’ll have come across them plenty of times, and you’ll probably even have some of your own. If there’s any particularly interesting ones, I’d rather quite like to hear them, and next time you tell someone about how you misheard a lyric in a humorous way, you can educate them about Mondegreens too if you like.

And that concludes what is the shortest article currently posted on this site, though I suppose that is not a particularly difficult feat given the length of the previous two. Even this article will be superseded in brevity in due time, but it’s been enjoyable to write about things without spending too long discussing them. Thank you for reading, and I’ll be back again SoonTM.

Advertisements