"an emoticon of privacy"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Wed Jan 11 14:41:47 UTC 2012

On Jan 9, 2012, at 2:23 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:

> On MSNBC, Meghan McCain said the Obamas deserve "an emoticon of privacy":
> http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/01/meghan-mccain-give-obamas-emoticon-of-privacy.html
> A simple malaprop for "modicum," or more of an eggcorn? (She said it
> twice, so it wasn't just a slip of the tongue.)

it could be just a slip of the tongue, specifically an inadvertent word retrieval error (of the Fay/Cutler variety). the fact is that these errors (both of the F/C phonological type and of the semantics-based type) sometimes persist: once you've said "spread like wildflower" (instead of "wildfire") you are moderately likely to say it again not long after (and similarly for "teaching assistant" instead of "research assistant") [real-life examples].  once you've pulled up the wrong word, it's in your memory for a while, and you have a fair chance of using it again.

> An emoticon is a small
> squiggly thing, so I can vaguely see a semantic basis for it.

if you're lucky, you can ask speakers if they said what they intended to, but in this case the publicity that has attended the error has surely clouded McCain's ability to reflect on her intentions.


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

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