I’m interested in words and how people use them, so of course I’m also a fan of misused and oddly-used words. I recently started a just-for-fun Twitter account (@fitofpeak) where I retweet some of the odd things people come up with: “doggy dog” for “dog eat dog” or “hammy downs” for “hand me downs,” for example. I try to stay away from simple misspellings, but illiterate usage amuses me and I have a particular fondness for “your a looser.” Believe me, you do a Twitter search on any of those, you’ll find tons of examples.
Some of my recent Twitter finds: blimp on the radar, quanza hut, hiden seek, take things with a grain assault, rod iron gate, malice of forethought, pre-madonna, self of steam. A lot of these are what they call eggcorns, incorrect constructions people come up with when using phrases or words they’ve heard but have never seen in print. A lot of people say or write “for all intensive purposes” when they mean “for all intents and purposes.” They’ve heard the phrase and interpreted it in their own way, and when you think about it, “for all intensive purposes” makes a certain kind of sense. The very word eggcorn, of course, is an eggcorn for acorn, and as hard as it is to imagine someone never having seen “acorn” in print, there are such people. Eggcorn is what they think they hear, and eggcorn is what they think that little nut is.
My wife says “thrashed” where I would say “trashed,” as in “the bedroom is thrashed/trashed.” I don’t think this is an eggcorn. She certainly knows both words, and she happens to think thrashed is the correct choice in that context. When I do a search on Twitter, it seems a lot of people are in her camp. I’m not taking sides. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
But not this flower, which I encountered in a novel I’m reading: “flailed to the floor.” I had to re-read the paragraph to parse the author’s meaning. He didn’t mean flailed in the sense of someone flailing as he or she falls to the floor, which would have been fine, but in the sense of being pinned to the floor, unable to rise. Nailed, not flailed. I don’t know now if I’ll be able to finish the book, elitist snob that I am.
And then there’s evolving language. This morning on Facebook I linked to a educational F-15 video. A friend left this comment: “The video is nice. I got a seen of what a mission is like more from it. Thanks for posting.” Got a seen? I searched Twitter and found dozens of tweets containing the phrase. Some Tweeps were just misspelling scene as seen, but a lot of others used “got a seen” to mean “taking a look at” or “getting a sense of,” like the man who tweeted “I like girls with strong blood lines … got a seen their family its a must. How their mother is, the health in the family, all these lil things.”
Spam is a special kind of English. One of these days spammers will learn to write in standard English, and heaven help us when they do. But for now they always manage to give themselves away. There’s always something that’s not quite right, like, oh, say, pretty much every single word in this email that slipped through my spam filter yesterday:
No, I didn’t unzip the attachment. And don’t you do it either!
© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.