“Shoe-in”, Ben Zimmer points out, belongs to a special family of errors called “eggcorns”: misspellings, mis-hearings or misinterpretations of standard (often idiomatic) words or sayings. Their name itself derives from a misspelling of “acorn”. As Ben explains in Shifting Idioms: An Eggcornucopia,

eggcorns might eventually reach folk-etymological permanence, or they might continue to be considered nonstandard errors, albeit creative ones.

They have also been described as:

tiny little poems, a symptom of human intelligence and creativity.

They’ve even got their own special database called the Eggcorn Database. Not very imaginative, but I suppose eggcorns are imaginative enough in their own right not to need a fancy database name.

You can see and hear Ben Zimmer explaining eggcorns in an ABC News feature celebrating National Dictionary Day (16 October, the birthday of Noah Webster)

Warning: Do NOT follow any of these links if you’re meant to be working as opposed to wurfing or cyberslacking.

By Marian Dougan

2 Responses to “If the shoe doesn’t fit (2): eggcorns and etymology”  

  1. 1 Ruth Webber

    Thank you for these joyful nuggets Marian. They brighten up dull days!

  2. 2 wordstogoodeffect

    Thanks, Ruth – that’s a very kind comment!
    And today is dull indeed, here in Glasgow at any rate!

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