Boo & Hooray Words
Next in a series of short articles looking at web resources useful for teachers
and learners of English. As a rough guide, each site is marked out of
25 in terms of content, design and ease-of-use.
The Eggcorn Database
When is an elk not an elk? Answer: when it's an eggcorn*. Confused? Probably, but take a look at the Eggcorn Database and dip into the (slightly) surreal world of eggcornology.
As the site puts it, an eggcorn is the 'spontaneous reshaping of a known expression'. They are similar to, but not quite like, malapropisms (click here for an explanation of the differences). The term is used to describe misheard or misspelled words or phrases that turn out to be just as appropriate as the original word the speaker was referring to.
The first ever eggcorn was discussed by the authors of Language Log (reviewed by Web Watch in September 2006). Basically, someone once wrote 'egg corn' instead of 'acorn'. When you think about the shape of an acorn, egg corn makes a lot of sense. Since then, linguists have been hunting out further examples of this phenomenon, and trying to pin down what actually constitutes an eggcorn.
The aim of the Eggcorn Database is to collect more eggcorns. Each suggestion is debated in some detail, and the validity of each entry's status as a true eggcorn is discussed. Some of the more straightforward examples include Old-Timer's for Alzheimer's, feeble for fetal – as in 'curled up in the feeble position' – and skimp milk instead of skimmed milk. Other examples are tenuous to say the least, (elk for ilk being a case in point), but that doesn't stop the accompanying discussion being informative and entertaining.
The best way to get acquainted with the site is to simply head for the Browse eggcorns section, for an alphabetical list of all the eggcorns in the database. If you look on the right and scroll down, you can see these are further categorised into sections such as idiom-related, nearly mainstream, questionable and not an eggcorn. The latter two categories are testament to the fact that the database's authors are not trying to force language into an artificial model, but rather, using it as a tool for observation.
The Eggcorn Database represents an alternative way of observing changes in English. The content is constantly evolving through more discoveries, which in turn sparks more debate. It's worth noting that the most recent eggcorns are described as 'fresh' rather than 'new'; eggcorns are discovered, not invented. A fine site to give your students a taste of living English.
*Is an elk really an eggcorn? Find out!