Today’s grammar tip: Eggcorns.

I might be biased, but I’m really excited for this installment of Grammar Hammer Time: Get ready for eggcorns, people.

As Merriam-Webster puts it, the term “eggcorn” refers to “a word or phrase that is mistakenly used for another word or phrase because it sounds similar and seems logical or plausible.” The story behind the actual word “eggcorn” is that a woman misheard “acorn” – you know, the thing that falls from oak trees and is kind of egg-shaped, from which new oak trees “hatch” – and she always thought that’s what they were called.

The term was coined back in 2003 in a discussion on the Language Log website, where linguist Mark Liberman took this discovery very seriously. It’s a quick read and pretty entertaining to see how scientifically Liberman analyzes this language weirdness he couldn’t quite identify. (Also worth checking out is the term “mondegreen,” which refers to a similar mishearing but specifically in poetry and songs. I think most of us remember “all the lonely Starbucks lovers” from Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.”)

Now back to eggcorns! We’ve all said ’em, so let’s get acquainted with what we actually mean versus what we’re unknowingly saying or writing incorrectly. Here are some popular examples, along with others that cracked me up:

Eggcorn What we really mean
all intensive purposes all intents and purposes
all over sudden all of a/the sudden
chomping at the bit champing at the bit
coming down the pipe coming down the pike (as in “turnpike”)
in agreeance in agreement (this eggcorn looks to be a mix of “agreement” and “acceptance”)
hear, hear here, here
lip singing lip syncing
old timer’s disease Alzheimer’s disease
nip it in the butt nip it in the bud
pass mustard pass muster
towing the line toeing the line
Valentime’s Day Valentine’s Day
wheelbarrel wheelbarrow

The important thing to remember is that these are eggcorns because you can kind of see how they make sense, albeit some are more believable than others. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is a condition that usually affects older people, and you typically respond “here, here” when you’re listening to a speech or toast. On the other hand, I don’t quite know what “pass mustard” means except when I’m searching for condiments at a barbecue.

With that, I bid you “adios, au revoir, however you say [auf wiedersehen], good night”!