In the previous post, we talked about eggcorns – versions of words and phrases that are “incorrect” but that nevertheless make sense. Sometimes, eggcorns even become so popular that they become the standard, “correct” version, and the original is forgotten. Of these six words/phrases, some are now considered standard and some are not – but they all started out as eggcorns
According to Understanding Language Change by Kate Burridge and Alexander Bergs, shamefast was an Old English word that literally meant “restrained by shame.” The word was misinterpreted as shamefaced often enough that the misinterpretation became the standard. Eventually, shamefaced’s meaning shifted, too, and today it means something closer to “feeling or showing shame.
In its traditional version, the phrase which means “a reliable and uncomplaining person” is real trouper. Some people still say the phrase should use the word trouper, meaning “an actor or other entertainer, typically one with long experience.” However, most people now write trooper, a synonym for soldier and homophone for trouper.
The standard version of the phrase is free rein, deriving from the use of reins to control horses. Since the meaning of *reign* relates to ruling, it’s a reasonable misunderstanding of the idiom, and apparently people use that reinterpretation fairly often. According to Oxforddictionaries.com, *free reign* appears approximately once for every two times *free rein* does.
Case in point is the original phrase. The Oxford English Dictionary reveals that in point used to be a common phrase meaning things like “appropriate” and “pertinent,” but nowadays it’s more or less fossilized in the phrase case in point. As Mark Liberman argues, the fact that in point has no intuitive meaning to most contemporary speakers makes this phrase more ripe for eggcorning. (Will the contemporary emergence of on point affect this? Stay tuned.)
In standard English, this would be pique one’s interest. To pique interest is to arouse it, and to peak something is to make it reach its highest point, so – given that peak and pique sound the same – it’s reasonable that someone hearing the phrase would think peak was being used in that context.
A variation on first of all, firstable has been around at least since the mid-1990s. Some might think it charming. Others might take to Twitter in a (possibly vain) attempt to stop its spread.
Which of these sound wrong to you? Which do you use yourself? Language sometimes evolves faster than you’d expect, so it’s possible that your answers to these questions will change a few years from now – keep an eye out.