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22nd May, 2017

The GP Grammar Guide: Eggcorns and oronyms

This month, the GP Grammar Guide has been focusing on the meanings, pronunciations, and spellings of words and phrases. This week we’re highlighting a couple more linguistic quirks that you may be unaware of: oronyms and eggcorns.

Oronyms are strings of words or phrases that meld together to create the likeness of another. This ties in nicely with our last Guide, which discussed homophones and homonyms; an oronym pairs together two homophonic phrases (that is, two phrases that sound the same, although they’re written differently and have very different meanings). This is best illustrated via example:

“Peace talks” and “pea stalks”

“Stuffy nose” and “stuff he knows”

“Ice cream” and ‘I scream”

“Four candles” and “fork handles” (bonus points here if you’re a fan of The Two Ronnies)

“Example” and “egg sample” 

These are often a good way to inject humour into spoken scripts, and many such phrases are commonly used in puns and wordplay. They also crop up relatively often in song lyrics.

Eggcorns are also related to auditory mishaps.

Fittingly, the word itself is a reference to a misinterpretation of “acorn”. Some popular examples are below—the second phrases are correct, and the first gives an example of how these are commonly misinterpreted.

“Old-timer’s disease” and “Alzheimer’s disease”

“Another thing coming” and “another think coming)

“For all intensive purposes” and “for all intents and purposes”

“Doggy-dog” and “dog-eat-dog”

“Expresso” and “espresso”

(More examples here.)

While both of these can be highly amusing, they also highlight gaps and flaws in one’s understanding of basic language and can make one look a little foolish, so are best avoided! Otherwise, you may find yourself in a similar situation to two students who, when tasked to put together a presentation about euthanasia, got the wrong end of the stick…

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