Crime Wave?

We call them eggcorns—“tiny lit­tle poems, a symp­tom of human intel­li­gence and cre­ativ­i­ty”. The Guardian calls them “word crimes”.

On July 7, Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press pub­lished a new edi­tion of the Con­cise Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, and appar­ent­ly sent around a press release that described an asso­ci­at­ed cor­pus-based study of punc­tu­a­tion, spelling and word-choice errors.

The Guardian report­ed this as follows:

One of the epi­dem­ic errors of the past 30 years—unnecessary, mis­placed or omit­ted apos­tro­phes in the words “its” and “it’s”—has dwin­dled to only about 8% of peo­ple, pos­si­bly because the mis­take has drawn so much ridicule…

But it has been replaced by mis­use of “dif­fuse” or “defuse” (as in “A coach can dif­fuse the sit­u­a­tion by prais­ing the players”).

Research for the new Con­cise Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, pub­lished today, found that this word crime was com­mit­ted in some 50% of exam­ples on the data­base. It is now rat­ed as the com­mon­est in the language.

The com­pa­ra­ble sto­ry in the Inde­pen­dent describes these sub­sti­tu­tions as “mass dyslex­ia”, in quotes. I haven’t been able to find the OUP press release, so I don’t know if these strik­ing exam­ples of the “lin­guis­tic vari­a­tion is crime” and “lin­guis­tic vari­a­tion is dis­ease” metaphors should be attrib­uted to OUP or to the jour­nal­ists involved.

As our on-going eggcorn col­lec­tion indi­cates, I cer­tain­ly rec­og­nize that things like using “dif­fuse” for “defuse” or “tow the line” for “toe the line” are non-stan­dard word sub­sti­tu­tions. But crime and dyslex­ia are pret­ty strong terms for sen­si­ble though incor­rect ideas about lin­guis­tic analysis.

I fall on the “word crimes” end of the spectrum.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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