"rough around the ages"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 28 18:49:59 UTC 2009

At 10:18 AM -0800 1/28/09, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky wrote this morning to suggest that i
>check out this expression.  and indeed i got about 30 google hits,
>from a variety of sources, among them:
>   RnB superstar Alicia Keys can understand why she was labelled a
>lesbian at the beginning of her career - because she was " rough
>around the ages " .
>   With Juno, she had so many dimensions to her in that she was this
>young, confident girl who's rough around the ages.
>   Bit rough around the ages but the staff are friendly and the beer
>is resonably priced.
>   More punk than folk, Bragg's forcefully strummed guitar and rough-
>around-the- ages vocals (not to mention thick Cockney accent) belie
>his keen sense of ...
>   Rough around the ages and with some issues that need dealing with,
>but he is mine and I am his and we are two peas in a pod.
>"ages" here could arise from a mishearing, or from hearing a
>pronunciation with a raised variant of /E/ before /J/, which could
>then be identified as /e/.  i don't see a semantic motivation.
I think the latter possibility is plausible--the writers are
interpreting the expression in the usual way, but just spelling
"edges" as "ages" (for phonological reasons), so that "ages" is
homonymous between the two meanings (assuming "ages" hasn't itself
shifted in pronunciation for these speakers). Then it wouldn't be an
eggcorn as such, just a semantically unmotivated phonetic respelling.

In the other direction, I see there's a west coast rock group "Rock
of Edges", presumably just a pun rather than (almost literally) an


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

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