It's not uncommon for someone who hears a word said out loud to confuse it with another word that sounds similar (or even identical) when spoken. When this happens, the result is what linguists would call an eggcorn. Someone hearing the word "acorn" for the first time could actually think the speaker is saying "eggcorn," so this term that has no other meaning has come to be used to describe this phenomenon.
While eggcorns are an error, they're not nonsensical and they don't change a speaker's meaning. Sometimes the way a person mishears or misinterprets a word causes them to use a different word, or approximation of a word, that is so close to the correct term that what they're saying actually makes sense (or scents, as the case may be with an eggcorn). It would be wrong to write "scents" if you mean "sense," but in spoken communication, the term would be understood correctly in context.
Common Eggcorn Examples
Many examples of eggcorns are used in everyday language.
One-Word Eggcorn Examples
Some eggcorns are just one word, as illustrated by the bold terms below.
- afeared (afraid)
- agreeance (in agreement; accept the terms; could be a combination of agreement and acceptance)
- centerpede (centipede)
- conscious (conscience)
- eardrop (eavesdrop)
- eavesdripping (eavesdropping)
- expresso (espresso)
- ex-patriot (expatriate)
- gambit (gamut)
- leper (leopard)
- nougat (nugget)
- overhauls (overalls)
- parody (parity)
- prospective (perspective)
- pylon (pile on)
- relative (relevant)
- spur (spurt)
- saleing (selling)
- tellyphone (telephone)
- tellyprompter (teleprompter)
- tellyvision (television)
- topsy (top seed)
- upmost (utmost)
- wonderlust (wanderlust)
- ringer (wringer)
There are many examples of two-word eggcorns.
- ad homonym (ad hominem)
- bad wrap (bad rap)
- ban together (band together)
- bare witness (bear witness)
- bean stock (beanstalk)
- beckon call (beck and call)
- Cadillac converter (catalytic converter)
- chester drawers (chest of drawers)
- collaborating evidence (corroborating evidence)
- could of (could have)
- dead wringer (dead ringer)
- deep seeded (deep-seated)
- doggy dog (dog eat dog)
- feeble position (fetal position)
- flesh out (flesh out)
- free rain (free rein)
- hysterical society (historical society)
- ice team (iced tea)
- jerry rig (jury rig)
- junk start (jumpstart)
- laughing stalk (laughingstock)
- must of (must have)
- mute point (moot point)
- nerve wrecking (nerve-racking)
- pass mustard (pass muster)
3+ Word Eggcorn Phrases
Some eggcorns are longer phrases. The examples below have three or more words.
- all for not (all for naught)
- all intensive purposes (all intents and purposes)
- can't make heads or tales of it (can't make heads or tails of it)
- cease and decease (cease and desist)
- chock it up (chalk it up)
- coming down the pipe (coming down the pike)
- curve my appetite (curb my appetite)
- cut to the cheese (cut to the chase)
- don't get your dandruff up (don't get your dander up)
- fair to midland (fair to middling)
- far be it to me (far be it from me)
- flaw in the ointment (fly in the ointment)
- from here on end (from here on in)
- get it down packed (get it down pat)
- give up the goat (give up the ghost)
- Holland day sauce (hollandaise sauce)
- in cohorts with (in cahoots with)
- in one fowl swoop (in one fell swoop)
- much to do about nothing (much ado about nothing)
- old wise tale (old wives' tale)
- peaked my interest (piqued my interest)
- put the pedal to the medal (put the pedal to the metal)
- rot iron fence (wrought iron fence)
- safety deposit box (safe deposit box)
- straight and arrow (straight and narrow)
Eggcorn vs. Mondegreen: How Do They Differ?
People sometimes confuse eggcorn and mondegreen, but these two types of linguistic errors are not exactly the same thing. While both involve mishearing or misinterpreting language, mondegreen refers to mishearing words or phrases, though mondegreen refers only to wording in song lyrics or poetry. Unlike with eggcorn, mondegreen changes the meaning.
- The Bonny Earl o' Moray - In this Scottish ballad, the line "and laid him on the green" was misheard as Lady Mondegreen. Thus began the use of the term mondegreen for this particular type of linguistic mistake.
- Bad Moon Rising - In this Creedence Clearwater Revival song, people sometimes mishear the line "there's a bad moon rising" as stating "there's a bathroom on the right."
- Blinded by the Light - In this song by Manfred Mann's Earth Band, the line "revved up like a deuce" is often misheard as "wrapped up like a douche."
- Simply the Best - In this Tina Turner tune, the line "better than all the rest" is sometimes misunderstood to say "better than an hour's rest."
- Purple Haze - While Jimi Hendrix actually sings, "excuse me while I kiss the sky," some listeners interpret this as "excuse me while I kiss this guy."
Learn About Language Errors
Eggcorns and mondegreens aren't the only kinds of language errors that are interesting and more than a bit entertaining to learn about. To learn more about common linguistic mistakes, review some examples of malapropisms. From there, spend some time exploring examples of spoonerisms. You'll be on your way to expanding your English language skills while getting a good example of word usage errors to avoid.