"fuse box" eggcorn?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 6 18:43:07 UTC 2009

At 2:19 PM -0400 5/6/09, Alison Murie wrote:
>On May 4, 2009, at 2:46 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>Subject:      Re: Fwd: "fuse box" eggcorn?
>>At 1:45 AM -0700 5/4/09, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>>>Begin forwarded message:
>>>>From: Max Heiman
>>>>Date: May 3, 2009 7:59:52 PM PDT
>>>>To: zwicky at stanford.edu
>>>>Subject: "fuse box" eggcorn?
>>>>I thought I'd pass the following along.  News coverage of the recent
>>>>air force flyover of downtown Manhattan referred to the situation as
>>>>having "turned into a political fuse box," an expression I've never
>>>>heard and which doesn't make much sense to me.  (I think of a fuse
>>>>box like a relief valve, a device to keep things from blowing up.
>>>>Perhaps the writer meant it like a crackling, high-voltage
>>>>situation?)  The only google hits I get for "political fuse box" or
>>>>"turned into a * fuse box" are copies of the same single article.
>>>>Do you have any guess whether this is an eggcorn (and for what) or a
>>>>nonce coinage?  I'm just curious.  The article is here
>>>puzzling to me.  "fuse bomb' is close to 'fuse box", but doesn't make
>>>much more sense to me.  "flash point" makes more sense, but is
>>>phonologically very far from "fuse bomb".
>>>(the authors of the article are A. G. Sulzberger -- yes, the son of
>>>the publisher -- and Matthew L. Wald.)
>>Searching through the mental lexicon under "political f...", locating
>>"political football" and "political firestorm", and settling on
>>"political fusebox"?  I think "tinderbox" must be involved somehow,
>>and that is a metal box originally (though a different one, to be
>>sure).  Maybe "(political) tinderbox" + "(short) fuse"? Or
>>"(political) tinderbox" + "light(ing) the fuse?
>I've been surprised not to see the meaning of "fusebox" most familiar
>to me: that of the safety fuses on household electrical circuits
>(mostly replaced, these past forty years by "breaker boxes" at the
>service entry).  It doesn't throw much light on the "political
>fusebox" unless as an unlikely reference to its being the place of
>first resort when something goes wrong (e.g., the lights go out).
I thought that was the starting point for the thread, at least
implicitly--it's certainly my only association for "fuse box". The
panel of circuit breakers in our basements is often still called "the
fuse box" by us oldtimers for the same reason we refer to the fridge
as "the icebox"--although I confess that I don't actually remember
when the iceman came(*th) the way I do remember changing the fuses
when one burnt out (much more of a hassle than flipping the circuit
breaker).  The problem is that that kind of fuse box doesn't seem to
bear any semantic relation to the political fuse box above, which
strikes me as much more like a tinderbox (with maybe a bit of "short
fuse/light the fuse" thrown in, as noted).


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