Mon Oct 17 01:24:11 UTC 2005

        I don't have a problem with the idea that something may have
cost more than one clerk a reprimand.  A cost can be either a positive
thing you have to give up, or a negative thing you have to accept.
Actually, the "cost" usage struck me as entirely unexceptional, until
Arnold pointed out this possible problem.

        It's surprising how readily at least some inconsistent usages
can find public acceptance.  Consider the song "If I Had a Hammer,"
which begins:

<<If I had a hammer
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening
All over this land
I'd hammer out danger
I'd hammer out a warning
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land>>

        As you may recall, the singer similarly would ring a bell and
sing a song.  Now, there's nothing wrong with hammering out danger, and
there's nothing wrong with hammering out love, but those generally would
be considered opposite acts (i.e., destroying the danger, creating the

        It's possible, of course, that I'm misreading the lyrics, and
the songwriters (Lee Hays and Pete Seeger) meant to "hammer out
'Danger!'" - in other words, that the hammering out of the warning was
just the same as the hammering out of danger.  I've never seen the
lyrics printed that way, though.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Arnold M. Zwicky
Sent: Sunday, October 16, 2005 8:09 PM
Subject: Re: Eggcorn?

On Oct 16, 2005, at 2:04 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

>> From Letters in today's NYT Magazine:
> "[NP] may have caused more than one clerk a reprimand, if not a job."
> Presumably, what the writer was reaching for was:
> "[NP] may have cost more than one clerk a reprimand, if not a job."

that's just as bad as the original.  the problem is that if X causes Y
NP, Y receives NP, but if X costs Y NP, Y gives (up) NP.  so "may have
caused one clerk a reprimand" is fine (the clerk gets/receives a
reprimand, i.e., is reprimanded), but "may have cost one clerk a
reprimand" is not, at least if understood in the historical sense (the
clerk does not relinquish a reprimand) -- though it's possible that some
people have extended "cost" to mean 'be negatively affected', in which
case it might be possible for the second object to be understood as
denoting the negative consequence.  the question is whether some people
can say things like "My one mistake cost me a final grade of D" 'the
cost to me was (that I had to accept) a final grade of D'.  for me,
that's just impossible, but i could see how it could happen.

but there's nothing wrong with "may have caused one clerk a reprimand".
there *is*, of course, a problem with "may have caused one clerk a job".

in any case, this looks like blendish rather than eggcornish.


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