cuff/cup eggcorns?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Dec 22 19:08:35 UTC 2008

At 10:32 AM -0800 12/22/08, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>On Dec 19, 2008, at 8:03 PM, Herb Stahlke wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM>
>>Subject:      cuff/cup eggcorns?
>>I've frequently heard the expressions "rotator cup" and "blood
>>pressure cup" for "rotator cuff" and "blood pressure cuff."  Google
>>hits ...
>>... why would "cup" replace "cuff"?  Is the use of "cuff" as a strip
>>or fold encircling the wrist or ankle at the end of a sleeve/trouser
>>leg falling out of common use so that the resemblence of the BP
>>instrument no longer obviously resembles one?
>but "cup" wouldn't make more sense.
>this is likely to originate from a mishearing, i'd guess.
But the mishearing might itself be prompted by the opacity of "cuff"
in this use.  I don't think it's a question of whether "cup" makes
more sense here, but that specialized and relatively infrequent words
like "cuff" are less likely to have extended opaque uses/senses than
frequent words like "cup".  The OED, for example, has many more
entries for senses and subsenses of "cup" than for "cuff", many of
which do not relate to a drinking vessel; some relate to shapes that
may only loosely involve some sort of concavity, not out of the
question to be relevant in the case of rotator cuffs and blood
pressure cuffs, and some bear only a metaphorical or metonymic
relation, as in "competing for the cup", i.e. the championship of
some sport.  "Cuff", on the other hand, has few separate senses, and
is almost always (when unspecified) used for the thingy at the end of
one's sleeve or trousers or the thingy that attaches to one's wrists
or ankles with a lock.  Granted, the last of these may be more
transparently related to b-p cuffs (although not to rotator cuffs),
and indeed I'd wager that patients who are cops or into BDSM are less
likely to hear "blood-pressure cuff" as "blood-pressure cup".  The
general correlation is from Zipf:  more frequent words tend to be
more versatile, i.e. have more--and more opaquely related--senses,
than less frequent ones.


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