A torcherous eggcorn

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Dec 13 17:15:17 UTC 2007

On Dec 12, 2007, at 4:55 PM, Chris Waigl wrote:

> 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.

rationalization (b) seems far-fetched to me.  rationalization (a) has
a lot going for it as an explanation for the post-Star-Trek spread of
the usage, but of course it can't be an account of the 70 or so years
of "phase" before the tv show.

so, we have a period in which "phase" occurs as a spelling variant of
"faze".  then Star Trek comes along and provides a rationalization for
the spelling.  several usage writers believe that the usage is
increasing.  this might just be an illusion, but it might be an
accurate reflection of ST-induced spread; it would not be easy to
check it out (since we'd need to look at how often "phase" rather than
"faze" occurs, when either would be possible, at various time periods).


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