I always thought those funny turns of phrase people unwittingly say were malapropisms. But malapropisms are when someone, instead of using the word they meant, use another that sounds similar. Sometimes it can be funny but only because it doesn’t make sense. It’s like their spoken auto-correct went wrong.
What I’m thinking of are eggcorns. That’s when somebody uses a word or adjusts the word they use, not just because it sounds similar, but because it does make sense. The name “eggcorn” comes from a woman who thought that the word “acorn” was “eggcorn.” It made sense to her.
As Jan Freeman, who blogs about language, wrote six years ago when “eggcorn” was officially recognized as a word by the Oxford English Dictionary, “Because they make sense, eggcorns are interesting in a way that mere disfluencies and malapropisms are not: They show our minds at work on the language, reshaping an opaque phrase into something more plausible. They’re tiny linguistic treasures, pearls of imagination created by clothing an unfamiliar usage in a more recognizable costume.” She points out that eggcorns often go on to become an accepted part of our language. In other words, they help language evolve.
When Merriam Webster added eggcorn to its dictionary more recently, NPR and Time published more examples and pointed out another nifty word: mondegreen, which is when people mishear song lyrics in ways that make goofy sense.
My favorite eggcorn was when my young daughter, referring to the kind of doctor women go to, called them “vaginacologists.”
She also came home from school one day excited to tell me all about the “Heimlich remover.”
My father, years ago, was talking about someone who had gone into a mental-health facility called Star Haven. He heard it as “Stark Raving.”
I love these.