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But it has been replaced by mis­use of “dif­fuse” or “defuse” (as in “A coach can dif­fuse the sit­u­a­tion by prais­ing the players”).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.
Posts created 4259

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Posts

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top