Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Fri Mar 3 19:25:19 UTC 2006

On Mar 2, 2006, at 7:05 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:

> How do you distinguish a mere misspelling from a genuine eggcorn? The
> eggcorn site has examples that appear to consist of mere
> misspellings of
> "cacciatore" that seem to be neutral with respect to semantics...

i've posted on the Language Log about this, several times, and in
soc.motss, and (i think) here on ADS-L, too.  the briefest answer is
the following:

something gets into the eggcorn database as a genuine eggcorn if it
is probable  that at least some occurrences of it have an eggcorning
(a reshaping in favor of greater semantic transparency) in their

in the case of the misspellings of "cacciatore", the eggcorning would
involve the (mis)perception that the word contains the verb "catch",
and the "cacciatore" entry (which i wrote) says this very clearly.

now, any *particular* instance of an aberrant spelling might be a
mere misspelling (in particular, "spelling by sound"), or it might
arise from a misperception (which then alters the spelling), or it
might involve morphological reanalysis, or it might represent a Fay-
Cutler malapropism, or it might be a simple classical malapropism
(not involving reanalysis on the basis of semantics) -- or, in a
great many cases, it might just be a spelling learned from models,
which unfortunately happen themselves to be aberrant (in which case,
the question is then how this misspelling first arose).  it's often
impossible to decide what's going on in particular occurrences,
though sometimes there is evidence about the beliefs and intentions
of the writer or speaker (though this evidence won't on its own tell
you whether the person who produced the error did so on their own or
merely got it from other people).

arnold (zwicky at

The American Dialect Society -

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