A great introduction to some of the reasons why I love studying the English language. From John McIntyre’s You Don’t Say.
The malapropism: This venerable category of errors
derives from the delicious and eponymous Mrs. Malaprop from Richard
Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals of 1775. Mrs. Malaprop (from the French mal a propos) pretentiously and unknowingly substitutes the wrong word for a similar-sounding correct one in her pronouncements, such as an allegory on the banks of the Nile. Or, more comprehensively: If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs! (apprehend, vernacular, arrangement, epithets).
The Rev. Archibald Spooner, warden of New College, Oxford, has given
his name to a tongue-twisted error in which portions of words are
transposed in phrases to give new and incongruous meanings. May I sew you to a sheet? for show you to a seat and the toast To our queer old dean for dear old queen are
representative examples. Though the Rev. Mr. Spooner was said to be
given to this sort of thing, it appears that many Spoonerisms
attributed to him are entirely apocryphal.
In an 1954 essay Sylvia Wright gave this word its impetus by desribing
how as a child she had understood a line in the ballad “The Bonnie Earl
O’Murray,” laid him on the green, as Lady Mondegreen.
A mondegreen is a misunderstood rendering of the text of a songf or
poem. The child’s hearing the hymn “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear” as
“Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear” is a famous mondegreen. Rock music, given
the roaring instrumentation and slack articulation of the singers, is
fertile soil for mondegreens.
The eggcorn: The
linguist Geoffrey Pullum has given us this term for an erroneous
transformation of a stock expression into a new one that only appears
to make sense. Free reign, hone in and baited breath*
are typical examples. They appear to rise typically from
misunderstandings of spoken English as it is translated into the
The Cupertino: Technology has
given us a new class of error identified at Language Log as the
Cupertino: an error induced by careless use of electronic
spell-checking — a form of cooperation transmuted into Cupertino. The Sun once
presented a notable example in an article referring to Kunta Kinte, the
protagonist of Alex Haley’s Roots, as Chunter Knit. It should be
superfluous to point out that only a fool sets a spell-check program to