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Cafe chalkboard advertising a "pre fixed menu", an eggcorn of the French prix fixe (fixed price)

In linguistics, an eggcorn is an alteration of a phrase through the mishearing or reinterpretation of one or more of its elements,[1] creating a new phrase having a different meaning from the original but which still makes sense and is plausible when used in the same context.[2] Eggcorns often arise as people attempt to make sense of a stock phrase that uses a term unfamiliar to them,[3] as for example replacing "Alzheimer's disease" with "old-timers' disease",[2] or Shakespeare's "to the manner born" with "to the manor born".[1]

Language change[edit]

Eggcorns arise when people attempt to use analogy and logic to make sense of an expression – often a stock expression – that includes a term which is not meaningful to them.[3] For example, the stock expression "in one fell swoop" might be replaced by "in one foul swoop", the archaic adjective "fell" being replaced with the common word "foul" in order to convey the cruel/underhand meaning of the phrase as the speaker understands it.[3]

Eggcorns are of interest to linguists as they not only show language changing in real time, but can also shed light on how and why the change occurs.[3]


The term eggcorn, as used to refer to this kind of substitution, was coined by professor of linguistics Geoffrey Pullum in September 2003 in response to an article by Mark Liberman on the website Language Log, a group blog for linguists.[4] Liberman discussed the case of a woman who substituted the phrase egg corn for the word acorn, and he argued that the precise phenomenon lacked a name. Pullum suggested using eggcorn itself as a label.[5]


Similar phenomena[edit]

Eggcorn is similar to, but differs from, folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen and pun.[13]

  • Unlike a folk etymology (a change in the form of a word caused by widespread misunderstanding of the word's etymology), an eggcorn may be limited to one person rather than being used generally within a speech community[5][3]
  • A malapropism generally derives its effect from a comic misunderstanding of the user, often creating a nonsensical phrase: an eggcorn on the other hand is a substitution that exhibits creativity or logic[11]
  • A mondegreen is a misinterpretation of a word or phrase, often within the lyrics of a specific song or other type of performance, and need not make sense within that context.[14] An eggcorn must still retain something of the original meaning,[14] as the speaker understands it, and may be a replacement for a poorly-understood phrase rather than a mishearing
  • In a pun, the speaker or writer intentionally creates a humorous effect, whereas an eggcorn may be used or created by someone who is unaware that the expression is non-standard.[15]

Where the spoken form of an eggcorn sounds the same as the original, it becomes a type of oronym.


  1. ^ a b c "eggcorn". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 May 2022. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.), sense 2
  2. ^ a b c "eggcorn n.". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (fifth ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2011. ISBN 0-547-04101-2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Butterfield, Jeremy (2008). Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare. Oxford University Press. pp. 57–59. ISBN 978-0-19-923906-1.
  4. ^ Erard, Michael (June 20, 2006). "Analyzing Eggcorns and Snowclones, and Challenging Strunk and White". The New York Times. p. 4. Archived from the original on 2006-08-13. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  5. ^ a b Liberman, Mark (September 23, 2003). "Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, ???". Language Log. Archived from the original on 2004-04-04.
  6. ^ "'Review: Don't be a Damp Squid'". Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  7. ^ Anu Garg (February 21, 2013). "eggcorn". A Word A Day. Archived from the original on May 16, 2020. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  8. ^ "'For All Intensive Purposes': An Eggcorn". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on June 18, 2020. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  9. ^ "'Free Rein' or 'Free Reign'?". Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  10. ^ a b c McG, Ross. "A damp squid, for all intensive purposes: 14 'eggcorns' to make you laugh". Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  11. ^ a b Peters, Mark (March–April 2006). "Word Watch: The Eggcorn – Lend Me Your Ear". Psychology Today. 39 (2): 18. Archived from the original on 2006-07-09. Retrieved 2006-07-13.
  12. ^ Staff (2006-08-26). "The word: Eggcorns". New Scientist. p. 52. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2006-12-21. LexisNexis link
  13. ^ Pullum, Geoffrey K (October 27, 2003). "Phrases for lazy writers in kit form". Language Log. Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved November 25, 2007.
  14. ^ a b Marko Ticak (24 Nov 2016). "Humanity's Best Eggcorn Examples". grammarly blog.
  15. ^ Zwicky, Arnold (2 Nov 2003). "LADY MONDEGREEN SAYS HER PEACE ABOUT EGG CORNS". Archived from the original on 8 March 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]