Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Eggcorn morphemes

Twice this week I've heard a phrase that sounded like the speaker had misheard it. On the QI podcast 'No such thing as a fish' Andy said that meteors/meteorites came from out of space rather than outer space, and a television continuity announcer said that a garden in an Alan Titchmarsh programme needed some tender love and care rather than tender loving care.

These, I think, count as eggcorns. I'm not certain, because 'eggcorn' has a very specific definition: it's misinterpreting a word or phrase as something else that makes sense. It's named after an example of itself: an acorn looks like an egg in an eggcup, so eggcorn makes sense.

In this case, it's a function word (or part of a word) that's been misheard as something else that makes sense. In outer space, the -er is just a schwa if you have a non-rhotic accent (you don't pronounce the 'r' at the end). As it happens, so is of in connected speech, at least a lot of the time. We even have a way of writing it: o' (although this looks affected or like you're mimicking an Irish accent or something). Another way of writing it is when we merge it into another word: a lotta fun, a lorra lorra laughs. And it's reasonable to say that a meteorite has come from out of space. The Eggcorn Database has an example of outer body experience, which is the same thing in the opposite direction.

In tender loving care, it's the -ing morpheme (part of a word) that's misanalysed. Again, the pronunciation in normal speech may be reduced to 'n', and so might and. And again, it's just as reasonable that you would give a garden tender love and care as that you would give it tender loving care (maybe more so, actually).

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