A torcherous eggcorn

Thu Dec 13 14:37:04 UTC 2007

        As MWDEU implies, the spelling was not really standardized (to
the extent it has been standardized) until the 20th century, so even
though "faze" may be a better spelling on etymological principles (since
"faze" derives from "feeze," itself subject to variant spellings), I'm
not sure you can really call it a misspelling in its 19th century uses.

        I believe that most people asserting "phase" to be an eggcorn
suppose the reanalysis to be from the science fiction phaser, even
though the "phase" spelling long predates the SF term.  I've never
thought of the theory that people using verb "phase" might be deriving
it from the out-of-phase sense.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Chris F Waigl
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2007 7:55 PM
Subject: Re: A torcherous eggcorn

Baker, John wrote:
>         True, I did mention this on ECDB, although I was unaware that
> anyone had noted my remark.  My primary point was that "phase" appears

> to be a spelling variation of "faze," and not a re-analysis, so I
> don't understand why it would be considered an eggcorn.  In this
> regard, I find your discussion of "die is cast" helpful.
I'm a bit unsure what you mean by "spelling variation and not
re-analysis" -- the "faze" and "phase" point in pretty much opposite
directions as far as word origin is concerned that if phase can be
considered a variant now, it must have been a misspelling (and not just
mere variation) first.

As for re-analysis, I have encountered at least two very sensible
explanations or rationalisations of the "phase" spelling:

a) (many times) As a back-formation from the sci-fi (Star Treck?) weapon
called a phaser. "X doesn't phase me" is then explained as "doesn't
threaten me, won't knock me off my feet" etc.
b) (more rarely, but I am biased as this was a potential analysis I
contemplated until I had looked it up, about 10 years ago -- being a
non-native speaker means that I actually have to look up this sort of
thing once in a while) From the phase of a wave, i.e. the relative
location of minima and maxima relative to other waves. Ok this sounds
technical, but the idea is falling out of step, being dislocated from
the order of the environment.


Chris Waigl

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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