Last time, I asked you to name the “experience of saying something to your child and then realizing that you sound like one of your own parents.”
Patricia Horwitz, of Jamaica Plain, suggested parentiteration. Betsy Jackson, of Hanson, proposed parenthethical, adding, “My auto-spell wants to correct me, but I stand firm!”
More than a few readers offered separate suggestions for sounding like your mom and sounding like your dad. For example, Marc McGarry, of Newton Highlands, proposed momic, a blend of mom and mimic, and paparrot, from papa and parrot. And Chris, who declared, “I can so relate to this topic from both ends of the spectrum,” suggested momulation and didadtic.
Susan LaMar, of Uxbridge, came up with déjà mère and déjà père, plays on déjà vu. At first, I was inclined to dismiss this couple of coinages because somebody pretty much always sends me déjà something or other no matter what I’ve asked for. But in this case, it’s totally apt — at least, it is if your starting point is the meaning of a feeling of familiarity, as the phrase is used in English, rather than the literal French meaning, “already seen.” Susan, this time bragging rights go to you. Well done!
The new challenge today grows out of one of the two challenges I issued in the column before last: I asked readers to send me a palindromic name for a palindrome. (For once, I didn’t get any déjà phrases.) Colin Campbell, of Pembroke, failed to follow instructions and sent me a palindrome instead, which he said he’d found in his fifth-grade spelling book: “Doc note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.”
He added, “I take language to heart, and I cringe when I hear it misspoken: ‘It’s a mute (moot) point.’ ‘He was laxadaisical (lax or lackadaisical, take your pick).’ We all need to do better! When I hear ‘Me and my buddies did [whatever],’ my toenails curl.”
And that got me thinking about words like mute for moot — that is, eggcorns. An eggcorn, according to Oxford Languages, is “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of another” word — for example, tow the line instead of toe the line.
This now dictionary-sanctioned term was coined by the linguist Geoffrey Pullum in a 2003 blog post about the case of a woman who substituted the phrase egg corn for the word acorn. Relatively common eggcorns include ex-patriot for expatriate, for all intensive purposes instead of for all intents and purposes, and old-timers’ disease for Alzheimer’s disease.
When an eggcorn stems from song lyrics, it’s called a mondegreen. A well-known one is the interpretation of “’Scuse me while I kiss the sky” in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” as “’Scuse me while I kiss this guy.”
The name for these mishearings comes from a 1954 Harper’s Magazine article by Sylvia Wright. She explained that when she was a child, her mother had often read her the lyrics of a 17th-century ballad whose first stanza goes like this:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
And laid him on the green.
Young Sylvia — the grown-up Sylvia reported — long believed that the stanza concluded with “And Lady Mondegreen.”
Here are a few of my favorite mondegreens:
From The Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”: “And when I get home to you, I find a broken canoe.”
From Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind”: “The ants are my friends.”
And from that rousing abolitionist anthem the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord / He has trampled on the village where the great giraffe is stored.”
Do you have a favorite eggcorn or mondegreen to share? It doesn’t need to be original, but if it’s one I’ve never heard before, so much the better. Send it to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, Aug. 19, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.
Barbara Wallraff is a writer who lives in Cambridge, Mass., and London.