Possible partial eggcorn: portcullis >> fort colours

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jan 18 15:06:03 UTC 2009

At 1:35 PM +0000 1/18/09, Damien Hall wrote:
>A three-year-old speaker of Southern English BrE of my acquaintaince
>recently said
>[fO:t k^l at z]
>for 'portcullis'.

Not to be confused with "torticollis", a.k.a. "tortoise collar",
which Mark Mandel commented on here in Sept. 2000:

I heard an acquaintance (educational level high school only, I think) say
"tortoise collar" for "torticollis" (a medical condition in which the neck
is more or less permanently twisted so the head is not facing forward).

I'd take the port > fort part of the current reanalysis to be a
standard eggcornish folk etymology.  There are supposedly 1.8
*million* g-hits for "fortcullis", although google does ask helpfully
whether I mean "portcullis".


>Obviously, as he's still acquiring his language, we can't
>be sure; but it seems like a pretty clear example of an eggcorn to me, at
>least in the first syllable. As a speaker of Southern English BrE, he's
>r-less, and the fiirst phoneme was certainly /f/, so it seems clear that
>he's substituted the first syllable of the opaque _portcullis_ with a
>phonetically-close one that has the appropriate semantic associations of a
>castle (where portcullises are to be found), which could also be called a
>The remainder of the word was less clear; it could even be that he was
>pronouncing it correctly (since the last vowel is unstressed and, even
>though it's /I/ in the target word, it may be that his idiolect reduces
>that to schwa. In any case, I'd be reluctant to say that that too was an
>eggcorn; 'colours' are also associated with knights, castles and things,
>but I think that's too much of a stretch of association for a
>three-year-old to make.
>Damien Hall
>University of York
>Department of Language and Linguistic Science
>York YO10 5DD
>Tel. (office) 01904 432665
>     (mobile) 0771 853 5634
>Fax  01904 432673
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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