Merriam-Webster added a number of new words to its dictionary recently, and because of that we here at Constant Content finally have a name for an error that we see fairly often: an eggcorn. An eggcorn, in addition to sounding funny, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase either on its own or as part of a set expression.
That might sounds a little bit confusing, so let’s get to some examples of these errors:
“For all intensive purposes” instead of the correct “for all intents and purposes. “
“Duck tape” instead of “duct tape.”
“Flaw in the ointment” instead of “fly in the ointment. “
“Throws of passion” instead of “throes of passion.”
“Lame man” instead of “layman.”
Even “eggcorn” itself is a mistaken pronunciation of “acorn.”
The list of eggcorns is pretty huge, and as people use language, it’s only going to get bigger. How do we stop from making eggcorn mistakes in our writing? The answer is pretty simple, but it’s difficult to put into practice: make sure you know what your idiom is and what it’s supposed to be used for.
A quick internet search of your idiom is a good way to make sure you’re using it right. Eggcorns can be difficult to proofread for, so if you’re not 100% sure of your idiom, don’t use it. Instead, make sure your language is easy to understand and concise. If you think that your reader could get at all confused by what your writing, figure out a different way to put it. Don’t rely on idioms in your writing since they can cause wordiness, clarity issues, or just be inappropriate for formal writing.
Eggcorns are easy errors to commit. With a bit of work and the use of the internet, your writing can be concise and say exactly what you want it to say.