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

An eggcorn is the 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] The autological word "eggcorn" is itself an eggcorn, derived from acorn. 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 William 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 one – 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 infrequently-used adjective "fell" (for "fierce", "cruel", or "terrible"[4]) being replaced with the more 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 egg corn (later contracted into one word, eggcorn) 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.[5] In his article, Liberman discussed the case of a woman who had used the phrase egg corn for acorn, and he noted that this specific type of substitution lacked a name. Pullum suggested using egg corn itself as a label.[6]


Similar phenomena[edit]

Eggcorns are similar to but distinct from several other linguistic expressions:[21]

  • Where a folk etymology is 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.[6][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.[17]
  • 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.[22] An eggcorn must still retain something of the original meaning,[22] 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.[23]

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


  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 978-0-547-04101-8.
  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. ^ [1] 'fell', adjective, at Mirriam-Webster dictionary
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ a b Liberman, Mark (September 23, 2003). "Egg corns: folk etymology, malapropism, mondegreen, ???". Language Log. Archived from the original on 2004-04-04.
  7. ^ a b Wallraff, Barbara (2006-09-01). "Word Court". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  8. ^ Staff (2006-08-26). "The word: Eggcorns". New Scientist. p. 52. Archived from the original on 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2006-12-21.
  9. ^ "Beckon call". Grammarist. 2010-01-22. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  10. ^ "'Review: Don't be a Damp Squid'". Retrieved November 24, 2021.
  11. ^ Anu Garg (February 21, 2013). "eggcorn". A Word A Day. Archived from the original on May 16, 2020. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c McG, Ross. "A damp squid, for all intensive purposes: 14 'eggcorns' to make you laugh". Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  13. ^ "'For All Intensive Purposes': An Eggcorn". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on June 18, 2020. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  14. ^ "'Free Rein' or 'Free Reign'?". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 13 December 2021.
  15. ^ "'Just Deserts' or 'Just Desserts'?". Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  16. ^ "Old wives' tale vs old wise tale". Grammarist. 2016-03-31. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "This Is What 'Eggcorns' Are (and Why They're Jar-Droppingly Good". Retrieved 26 August 2022.
  19. ^ Fozzard, Anna (2017-06-09). "Eggcorns and other cute things children say". Stratton Craig Copywriting Agency. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  20. ^ "Whet one's appetite vs wet one's appetite". Grammarist. 2016-03-20. Retrieved 2023-07-18.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ a b Marko Ticak (24 Nov 2016). "Humanity's Best Eggcorn Examples". grammarly blog.
  23. ^ 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.

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